Retracing the Steps of a Concentration Camp Prisoner
Dachau was one of the most brutal places on earth. I traveled over 5000 miles to walk the path of my friend.
As a college student, I received a writing assignment to interview someone I didn’t know. So I walked up to an old man sitting in the lobby of my apartment building and asked if we could chat.
And chat we did. Over many hours, the old man told me stories I’ll never forget.
As a result, I made myself a promise. Someday, I would retrace his path — the steps he took through one of the most brutal and horrific places on earth.
I would visit Dachau, the notorious World War II concentration camp.
The road to Dachau
Driving toward Munich, I considered all that had brought me here. More than 40 years had passed. The old man — Eric Behr — was long dead.
But my longing to walk in his footsteps remained. It was stoked by the fact that I’d recently rediscovered, tucked in the pages of my college yearbook, the yellowed pages of the assignment I’d written so long ago, covering our interview.
That sealed the deal. When retirement freed my schedule, I booked my trip to Germany and headed to Dachau.
It was here that Behr found himself in 1938, after being arrested by Nazi detectives. The Nazis felt Behr needed to be watched since he was both a Jew and a journalist. (Ironically, Behr’s newspaper columns were anything but political. He wrote restaurant reviews.)
“They never accused me of anything,” Behr told me. “They said they wanted to question me for two minutes, and two minutes turned out to be two years.”
Work sets you free
Dachau is not an easy place to visit. Upon entering the camp, I was struck by its bleak, haunting quality. Despite blue skies and tidy walking paths, a heaviness hung over everything.
At the visitors’ center, I joined a three-hour guided walking tour. The first stop was the camp’s iconic entrance gate, bearing the motto Arbeit Macht Frei (“Work Sets You Free”).