“All The Dachaus Must Remain Standing”
Joe Wilson is 94 years old. Yet he still has nightmares about what he saw 70 years ago today.
On April 29, 1945, Wilson and other members of the U.S. Army’s 45th Infantry Division — which had already endured over 500 days of savage fighting in Sicily, Italy, France and Germany — liberated Dachau, one of the Nazi’s most infamous concentration camps.
“Concentration camps.” What a despicable euphemism. They were death factories. They were, simply put, Hell on earth. Just reading about them makes my blood boil. The mind reels to think anyone could willingly inflict such torture and engage in such wholesale slaughter.
Rod Serling had much the same reaction — to put it mildly. And he poured his outrage into one of the most searing episodes of The Twilight Zone ever written: “Deaths-Head Revisited”. It follows the arrival of a former Nazi guard named Lutze (Oscar Beregi) at Dachau in what was then present-day Germany (1961) — only 16 years after the war had ended.
But Lutze isn’t there to weep over his crimes. He’s not interested in begging forgiveness. He’s there to gloat. The “black-uniformed, strutting animal whose function in life was to give pain,” as Serling describes him, wants to relive the good old days.
Serling, however, has a surprise in store for him. Lutze has a welcoming committee, led by a former camp inmate named Becker (Joseph Schildkraut). They’re there to conduct a long-delayed, much-deserved trial.
Lutze won’t be merely hearing a list of his crimes, though. He’ll feel every bullet, endure every blow. And by the end of his ordeal, when he suddenly realizes that Becker is a ghost (having been killed years earlier by Lutze himself), he’s been driven completely, irrevocably insane.
And then Becker delivers one of the most devastating soliloquies of the entire series:
Captain Lutze, if you can still reason, if there’s still any portion of your mind that can still function, take this thought with you. This is not hatred, this is retribution. This is not revenge, this is justice. But this is only the beginning, Captain. Only the beginning. Your final judgment will come from God.
And then, as the authorities take Lutze away, the doctor on the scene (Ben Wright) asks, “Dachau. Why does it still stand? Why do we keep it standing?” To which Serling replies, in one of the most perfect things he ever wrote:
There is an answer to the doctor’s question. All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes, all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the earth into a graveyard. Into it, they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, but worst of all, their conscience.
And the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers. Something to dwell on and to remember, not only in the Twilight Zone, but wherever men walk God’s earth.
Amen. May we never, ever forget.
Photos courtesy of Wendy Brydge. For a daily dose of Serling, you can follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest. You can also get email notifications of future posts by entering your address under “Follow S&S Via Email” on the upper left-hand side of this post. WordPress members can also hit “follow” at the top of this page.
Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!