Last week, Wal-Mart website listed a Nazi poster for sale. It is a photo of the Dachau concentration camp’s iron gate with the inscription “Arbeit Macht Frei,” which means “Work Makes You Free.” The description under the photo claimed that the poster “would make a great addition to your home or office.”
As the latest misstep in a long line of missteps, Wal-Mart issued this apology: “We sincerely apologize, and worked quickly to remove it. The item was sold through a third-party seller on our marketplace. We have shared our disappointment with them and have learned they are removing the publisher of this item entirely from inventory.”
The Jewish Daily Forward’s website quoted a Heeb article, “Why Is Walmart Selling this Charming Poster of a Concentration Camp?” Heeb said, “Where do you go if you’re in the market for an inspirational picture of a famous Nazi death camp?”
Let me tell you about Dachau. It was the first Nazi forced labor camp opened by Heinrich Himmler in 1933. Gays, immigrants and Jehovah’s Witnesses were the first to be imprisoned.
America has just celebrated our independence and thanked our veterans, so it seems a perfect time to tell you what my father, David Mark Olds, a U.S. Army Captain, said about Dachau when the war ended and the prisoners were freed.
“We came to the town of Dachau, a pretty little farming village, green grass, a church spire, neat little houses. As we drove to the camp, up to the tall, barbed wire topped fence, a peculiar smell filled the air, like food gone bad. The gates were wide open, and we just walked into the concentration camp. It was a madhouse with pitiful stick figures in striped pajamas limping and shuffling, unable to grasp that they’d been liberated.
“American MPs were trying to restore order, setting up a mess line and a delousing tent. It was heartbreaking. The ex-prisoners were emaciated, unshaven. Up close, they smelled nauseatingly of sickness, dirt and decay. But the worst was their eyes — hollow, staring dark circles in their pasty faces.
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“As we walked in, we saw a commotion — a bunch of the stick figures had surrounded a German guard. The inmates were screaming, faces contorted in rage, their open mouths displaying ragged, discolored stumps of teeth. They were holding pieces of wood, iron bars, stones, whatever came to hand, as they closed in on the guard, who was on his knees, terror in his face, pleading for his life. The crowd began to beat him, their terrible anger lending strength to their pipestem arms. The MPs stood by, watching, making no effort to intervene as he was beaten to death. Then the crazed stick figures darted away, shouting, shaking their fists, looking for more of the hated guards.
“The brick ovens were cold, their doors open, the chimneys looming over them. It was obvious that the camp authorities had tried to rake out all the bones and ashes, but enough remained as mute witness. The ovens gave off the sickly sweet, dreadful smell of burned human flesh. Around the corner, behind a shed, we saw a pile of corpses, 25 or 30, in the striped ticking uniforms, pitifully thin, like skeletons, most with mouths open in ghastly rictus, stacked up one on top of the other.
“I wanted to drive back to that pretty little town and ask the people how in God’s name they could have lived their lives next door to that horror. There was no way they couldn’t have known what was going on those few kilometers away. I wanted to destroy the town, and all its stone-faced, stone-hearted inhabitants. But there was nothing we could do, and we drove off.”
OK, who wants to buy the Dachau poster now?