Octoberfest, Dachau, and the Holocaust

September 21, 1991

      Our next stop was Munich (Munchen), where we stayed in Augsberg with a family named the LaValleys. They are an American family that has lived for twenty-five years (except for a brief stay in Turkey) in Germany, as part of the U.S. military establishment. Mr. LaValley teaches high school to the children of U.S. military personnel. They have a good life; certain material perks for working for the government and vacations all over Europe, skiing in the Alps, etc. More importantly, they have a cultural sophistication that is invaluable and unique among generally secluded Americans. This is not even counting the fluency in foreign languages. Indeed, in many ways the LaValleys are as German as they are American.

      I am very happy for the taste of a home and free rent and good food. This is the first time I have not stayed in impersonal accommodations in awhile and it is a welcome feel. The LaValleys are very hospitable and I guess it is a very European phenomenon to simply let visitors flop down on your floor for a couple of days. The LaValley's daughter is one of Katie's sorority sisters.

      The first night of Oktoberfest coincided with our arrival and it is quite a party. It really resembles a fair with open-air tents and roller-coasters and games. Inside the tents which are operated by a specific beer producer, thousands drink beer from giant thick beer mugs called "masses" and listen to traditional Bavarian music. There is a general air of conviviality and good will, and I have never seen so many drunk people in one place. The scene was definitely not appreciated by the girls but Matt and I indulged. That first night, we met some amicable Luxemburgans and partied with them. I almost did not make it back all the way to Augsberg and Matt did not - spending the night on the floor of the train station with many others. The beer is expensive and for some reason, I did not have the best time simply enjoying the good beer. Perhaps the scene is a little too forced. Perhaps it has something to do with being in a strange place and making so many new acquaintances.

      The most interesting people we met were the Australians. In one tent, the Haufbrau Haus, the Australians and New Zealanders made up the majority and this was one wild tent. All the men were shirtless and everyone had writing all over themselves. The Australians and New Zealanders argued incessantly and passionately among themselves as to which were better even as nobody else could tell them apart. Although I had heard rumor of it, I could not believe how hard the Aussies drink. We met a group of them who had bought a van and were driving all throughout Europe, drinking and doing little else. They would start drinking late in the morning and go steadily all day long. The man I was talking to had little cuts in his arm (self-inflicted) to indicate the number of beers consumed! He also had an assorted number of other anonymous mystery party wounds. They especially hated Italian men (even more than is usual, and I quote: "fucking dagos!") and bragged about how they spent their time in Italy beating them up until vigilante gangs would drive them out of town. They complained that the Italians were prima donnas, hormonal insulters of Australian women, etc. They smoke huge hand-rolled cigars which they pressed us to try.

      Also while in Munich, I visited the former concentration camp at Dachau. It is now a museum, but much of the former camp had been left intact: barbed wire, guard houses, crematorium. The visit is an especially sobering one and I feel nothing but compassion for those people who were sent there. Despite all the typically German officiousness and legalese in the form of orders, receipts, etc. a segment of Europe (non-Aryan) was dehumanized and made to live in conditions that killed weak men soon and strong men slowly. But the camps were designed to work them to death at best and to "exterminate" them immediately at worst. It is redundant and known what happened in the camps, so I will refrain from speaking of the details.

Is this a 'soldier'?
What a tough soldier! Able to terrorize unarmed civilians single-handedly!
      I have nothing but contempt for the SS troops who served in these camps. I have at the least a little sympathy for the German soldiers who held an incomplete view of what the Nazis were really all about and were simply fighting the enemies of their country out in the cold, mud, and danger of the battlefield. But how tough were these SS men? To terrorize and kill unarmed men? I have always believed in the capacity for men to fight with discipline, self-control, and honor in combat. I have always believed in the "warrior" in the best sense of the word. A warrior does not kill prisoners. A warrior does not kill children. A warrior does not rape women. More germane to the Nazi experience, a warrior does not gas civilians and then put them in ovens.

Defenseless prisoners murdered by the "warriors" of Nazi Germany

      In an imperfect world full of flawed human beings, warfare will probably always be with us and the presence of armies with disciplined, self-controlled soldiers of integrity are indispensable if we are to count ourselves any better than beasts. Trusting in the integrity of the professional soldier might be a slender hope, but it is the only thing which separates warfare from utter savagery. The Second World War presents us with pristine images of the highs and lows when it comes to soldiering: the cowardice of Heinrich Himmler and the SS, as well as the quiet skill and dedication to duty of Dwight Eisenhower or Omar Bradley. On the higher level of statesmanship it is no different: the opportunism and moral bankruptcy of the dictators Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin in contrast to the principle of democratically elected leaders such as Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. I often speculate that WWII ultimately comes down to a geo-strategic duel between the personages of Hitler and Roosevelt. Japan as the ally of Germany and the United States supplying the armed forces of the Soviet Union and Great Britain were all but sideshows to the greater conflict between these two very different men locked in a worldwide chess match for supremacy. Let us be thankful that Hitler and his Third Reich did not emerge from this struggle victorious!

      In reading Himmler's quotes, there is a pride of having the Nietzchean strength of will to be able to be so cruel and unfeeling instruments of death in the "final solution" in the name of the "destiny of the Third Reich." There is a picture of a SS soldier with his foot on a prone Jew's neck, with the officer in the style of a hunter proudly posing over a fallen prize game. What a man of courage and strength! What a feat of martial valor and heroism to lord over an already beaten man! His countenance strongly offended my sense of masculine identity. My hate of senseless violence and cowardly bullying is the main reason I want to become a police officer upon my return from Europe. I truly believe in what Burke said some 200 years ago: "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle." All the empty racial rhetoric and legal justification of Nazi Germany were mere window dressing; the concentration camps were about an abuse of power on a large-scale and cruelty undiluted. One of the moments during this trip when I felt most proud to be American was when I saw the pictures of American combat soldiers liberating Dachau.

Liberation of Dachau
At Dachau extermination camp, two U.S. soldiers gaze
at victims of Hitler's Final Solution who died on board a death train.

Executing the executioners
Americans conduct on-the-spot executions of Nazi SS guards at Dachau.

      Of course, Kerren and my sister decided to forgo Oktoberfest and a visit to Dachau to go frolicking through yonder German woods like sylphs. I am sure the Bavarian countryside is beautiful. However, in my opinion to miss the monumental experiences of Dachau and Oktoberfest to go camping is tantamount to a crime against history and knowledge. But about par for the course for the dynamic duo of Katie and Kerren.

What a tough guy!
German soldiers cutting the beard of an elderly Jew in Poland.

Enjoy your bit of bullying today, Mr. Tough Guy, because tomorrow you might be out in the middle of nowhere facing not defenseless old men but American, British, or Soviet combat soldiers who fight back!