September 8, 1968. They came to Dachau in droves, the former prisoners. To witness
the dedication of the international memorial that had been built there. There they
stood again on this doomed roll call yard, the Germans, the Poles, the Norwegians,
the Frenchmen, the Belgians, the Dutchmen. There were also uninvited guests.
It took twelve years before the plans of the International Dachau Committee (IDC)
could come to fruition. The first initiatives date from 1956. The unveiling should
have been the crown on all the work the committee did over many years.
It had to be an absolutely unique memorial, everyone agreed. But opinions varied
on all other subjects, with the consequence that the affair dragged on for years.
One of the points of contention was that there was actually talk of two initiatives.
The first point was the base of the monument. For the foundation drastic measures
were necessary because of the marshy ground in Dachau. Only when that problem was
solved were they able to think about building further. And then there had to be a
plan for the memorial itself, of course.
Designs were sent in from all corners of Europe. The ultimate choice was the design
of the Yugoslavian sculptor Glid Nandor.
It still took a year for everything to be prepared and approved by the various governmental
agencies. But on September 8, 1968 they were ready. On the day the International
Dachau Monument could be inaugurated with great pomp and circumstance.
There was, of course, also a representation of Dutchmen among the invitees. Prince
Bernhard was present, which was special, because this was the first time he attended
an official function in Germany after the war. He traveled on a government jet, a
group of old-Dachauers travelled with him.
The IDC leadership at the time consisted mainly of Frenchmen and Belgians, amongst
whom were several career military men. May be that is the reason why they decided
to give the ceremonies a military character. The international parade envisioned
by the Committee seemed difficult to realize. In those days it was unthinkable for
East Bloc countries to participate, so the had to limit themselves entities from
NATO countries. Detachments from Belgium, France and England were suggested and the
fly-over by American and Dutch planes was planned.
The West European ex-Dachauers thought that the armies that had liberated the occupies
countries should be represented in the ceremonies. The communists ex-prisoners were
against any military participation.
The first difference of opinion was born. There was a chasm between the communists
and the others.
In June 1968 the CID had a discussion with a Bavarian youth group about possible
participation in the ceremony. They were told they would be welcome to attend but
that they would have no say in the organization.
The youths answer with a list of demands:
a. We want a full participation in the organization committee
b. One of us has to give a speech during the ceremony
c. We reject any type of military show
Offended the CID rejected the ultimatum out of hand - the conflict with the youths
In the left wing press critical commentaries appeared: The unveiling of the monument
is an affair of the establishment. German youths are not welcome!”
There was always something stirring the sixties. The youths don't know what to make
of the past. They are in doubt about the roles their parents and grandparents played
during the Hitler Era. They joined in protest groups. They protested against governmental
leaders with a Nazi past and run up against the inequities in the world: the Vietnam
War, the Greek regime, South African Apartheid.
In May 1968 the masses become very active after the murder of Rudi Dutschke, the
leader of the German student youth movement. In the large cities the youths take
to the streets. When the building of the hated Springer Press is seized, the West
Berlin mayor, Klaus Schultz, orders the police to act decisively and heavy -handedly.
Several rioters wind up in a jail cell.
The International Dachau Committee retracts its invitations to the German youths.
That it was this mayor who was asked to give the opening speech at the ceremony was,
to say the least, a tactical error. For the youths this was the final drop in the
bucket. They prepared for a demonstration to vent their displeasure.
When the mayor walked up to the podium about forty youths unrolled banners with such
delightful slogans as “Today a remembrance, tomorrow murder” and “Dachau greets Hitler's
successors”. There were chants like “Dutschke today, we are next” and Ho ho ho Chi
The chants were quickly undecipherable because furious ex-prisoners attacked the
rioters, while shouting “C'est les fascistes!” (It the fascists) The police was able
to isolate the demonstrators to a distant location, where they would not be able
to do any more harm. They continued to shout “Schultz fascist” and “Do way with Schultz”,
but that did not disturb the ceremony any more.
But that was not the end of the story.
After the ceremony, all attendees were to have lunch in the sports hall in the city
of Dachau. But the youths managed to force themselves in there too, with their banners.
This time they were supported by the communist ex prisoners. One thing led to another,
which led to a massive fist fight, led by our own Arie van Soest, who attacked the
protested like a roaring lion. This caused the air to be cleared somewhat, but all
in all, it was still a clear dissonant on a day such as this.
When the hotheads had been calmed, some of the ex-prisoners started a conversation
with the students. They turned out to be nice kids, who were able to be convinced
that it made no sense to disturb this very important day for the ex-prisoners. On
the other hand, the ex-prisoners did have an understanding for their viewpoint that
a show of military might, which the youths called a NATO parade, seemed inappropriate
for the ceremony.
Which is how this emotional day ended in an atmosphere of brotherhood.