As I watched on television young people in Charlottesville, Va., – many in their 20s and 30s –chanting things like, “Jews will not replace us,” I was reminded of some of the most powerful stories my father, Dick DeWine, told me about what he witnessed as a soldier during World War II. Dad didn’t talk much about the war, but he did tell me about what he and his army company saw when they arrived at the Dachau concentration camp just days after it had been liberated.
White supremacists and neo-Nazis know only hate. It is incomprehensible – and scary – that there are people in America today who think that discrimination, hate, racism and bigotry are OK. They’re not.
How does this sort of fanaticism exist in America today? Is it ignorance? Do they have no sense of history?
Hitler is not just a name. He was the embodiment of evil. And there is simply no excuse for anyone today who thinks otherwise.
History is a teacher. And we must use it to educate our young people and remind everyone what Hitler stood for and the atrocities that he and his followers committed.
What my dad and his fellow soldiers witnessed in Hitler’s Germany was horrible. It was mind-boggling. And it was burned on their brains for the rest of their lives.
Dachau was a camp where more than 30,000 people perished at the hand of the Nazis. When Dad was there, he saw the ovens that the Nazis used to burn the bodies of so many of the prisoners. Even into his 80s, Dad could still vividly picture in his mind the devices they used to slide the bodies into the ovens.
He told me about going into a room next to the ovens and seeing fixtures on the walls that looked like showerheads. Those at the camp told him that prisoners were taken into these rooms and told they were going to take showers. But, instead of water coming out of the nozzles, deadly poisonous gas was emitted.
Dad also remembered walking down the road near the camp and encountering a very weak, emaciated man who had, a short time before that, been a prisoner. My dad and his buddies talked to the man and gave him food and cigarettes. They asked him if they could take his picture. He said yes – as long as it was with an American soldier. So they did.
Carl Greene was also a member of K Company. He, too, remembered Dachau. He told me that when they were there, some of the former prisoners in the camp – still wearing those unforgettable striped uniforms – actually served as their guides to show them around the camp, taking them to the gas chambers and the crematorium and the area in the camp where the Nazis would shoot prisoners in the back of their heads.
Al Eucare Sr., who served with my dad, was just 18 years-old at the time. He talked about the one-man pillboxes that stood outside the gates of Dachau. These were cylindrical pipes that stood upright, just big enough for a man to fit inside. Each of these concrete tubes contained an open slat at the top and the bottom, where guns were placed to shoot prisoners if there was disorder as they went in and out of the gates.
Like Dad, Al also remembered the horrible ovens at Dachau, which he said still contained ashes and skeletal remains inside.
These recollections are difficult to read and even more difficult to imagine. It’s one of the reasons that when the concentration camps were being liberated, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower instructed that photos be taken and films be made of the prisoners and of the unbelievable conditions in which they lived and in which so many were murdered. He wanted to make sure that we told these stories because, in his prescient words, “Some bastard will say this never happened.”
As the son of a soldier who helped liberate Europe, it sickens me that there are people in our country who perpetuate hate. The allies defeated the forces of fascism. Now, more than 70 years later, we, too, need to stand up to the white supremacists, neo-Nazis and KKK members who seek to divide us.
Mike DeWine is the Ohio Attorney General.
This op-ed originally appeared in the Columbus Dispatch.