Dachau: A Holy Week Meditation

At Heilig Kreuz Kirche in Munich, a cross fragment hangs in the entry to the sanctuary. The figure’s charred and broken legs are all that’s left of the original Baroque crucifix. The upper body was destroyed in a bombing during WWII. The german pamphlet beside the Kruzifix explains—Das Kreuzfragment zeigt die Wunde von Hass und Krieg—this cross fragment shows the wounds of hatred and war.

The night before we took the train to Dachau, I made a list of all the people who participated in Christ’s crucifixion—Judas, Pilate, Herod, the crowd, the pharisees, the soldiers. Then I searched the text to find out why they did it. Whether they acted out of envy, hatred, cowardice, or just plain ignorance, we hold them all culpable for their actions that Friday. And at Dachau, breathing in the heavy emptiness of 31,951 snuffed-out lives, I thought about the ways that the Nazis—white, sophisticated, Western, & religious—made the same choices.

Am I really so different from them? Three thousand babies’ lives are taken in my country every day, and do I stand up in protest? Bonhoeffer said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil.” If I am silent, is it because my social-emotional energy is wrapped up in the refugee crisis? And is that a good enough excuse?

At the Alte Pinakothek, I spent time with Rembrandt’s Passion series. In The Raising of the Cross, Rembrandt paints himself in among the soldiers.


Mea culpa, mea culpa. For what I have done and for what I have left undone, make me truly sorry and humbly repentant. 

At Dachau, the crematory is located at the far end of the camp. While it wasn’t intended as a mass extermination facility, this camp was still equipped with a gas chamber. By the time we reached it, I didn’t have much emotional bandwidth left. In fact, I didn’t realize I’d walked through the gas chamber till I stepped out of the dark room and read the label on the other side: “Waiting room – This is where victims were to be informed on using the supposed ‘showers.”

. . .

Just like during holy week, there’s always a point in the story when I withdraw. I walk away from the cross so I can watch from a distance because there’s just too much blood. When will I have the courage to cling to Jesus even as the nails are pounded into his hands? I don’t want to recoil—I want to find him in the suffering world around me.

Eia Mater, fons amoris, me sentire vim doloris fac ut tecum lugeam
Fac ut portem Christi mortem passionis eius sortem et plagas recolere

In the Passion of my Maker be my sinful soul partaker, may I bear with [Mary] my part.
O, thou Mother, fount of love, touch my spirit from above, make my heart with thine accord.
Make me after thine own fashion Christ’s companion in His Passion—all His pain and dying bear.
[from the Stabat Mater, listen]


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