Dachau Blues (I’ve got the Dachau Blues)


I’ve gotten used to it. The traffic-noise. At least consciously it doesn’t bother me anymore. I guess that’s because, sometime over the last two years, in order to cope with the city, I decided – can’t remember if the decision was conscious or not – to accept the raging trumpets of China traffic.

Brutal, tearing at what in a machinery-free world would be tranquil, the blaring of carhorns never stops. But I don’t notice the noise anymore, at least not with the same frequency and irritation as when I first arrived.


If I was Aesop I’d say here’s the moral of the process: that to survive, to simply get by in life, you sometimes have to wave that little white flag and surrender and accept things that initially bothered you.

People shouting at foreigners and spitting on the path, the absence of orderly queues – you find yourself accepting these things. If you didn’t your life would be hell. Every second would be some kind of torture.


The process, however, begs a question, and that question is what I find most interesting, and also most disturbing:

How many of my ethical or moral principals, assuming I had such principals in the first place, am I willing to compromise in order to live a comfortable life?


When questioned about an apparent social norm in China like infidelity, some expats who’ve been in the country for many years shrug their shoulders and sigh, This is China.


Maybe it’s not too much of a mental leap to ask: Is this mental process similar to, and maybe a less extreme example of, the mental process of certain German people in the 1930s and 40s, which mental process allowed a concentration camp to be built and run without much if any protest in the village of Dachau?


Opened in 1933, and located in an old munitions factory on the outskirts of a medieval town, Dachau was the first of the Nazi concentration camps.

From 1933 to 1938, the prisoners were mostly German civilians detained for political reasons. Subsequently, the camp was used for prisoners from nations occupied by the Nazis.

Morris Janovitz, in the American Journal of Sociology (September, 1946), has said, ‘Almost all Germans interrogated readily admitted that they knew at least of the existence of the concentration camps in Germany before the arrival of Allied troops. Newspaper accounts continually told of the removal of enemies of the Reich to concentration camps. Jingles that spoke of their existence and warned of their significance came into common use as early as 1935. For example;

Lieber Herr Gott, mach mich stumm,

Das ich nicht nach Dachau komm.

[Dear God, make me dumb,

That I may not to Dachau come.]’

In 1945, after the Allied Forces’ victory, American GIs began to believe that German civilians knew a great deal about the concentration camps and many were furious at the almost universal claims of ignorance.


To live comfortably we will either accept or ignore what we know deep down to be wrong or at least questionable. And then, perhaps, incrementally, we’ll begin to believe in ideas we once did not believe in, all because we want to live a sheltered protected life, undisturbed by that noisy nagging thing called principal or truth. And maybe we won’t even have noticed the mental process by which we came to accept or ignore behaviour we once understood to be wrong or at least objectionable, and we’ll have long forgotten our initial unease and, even if we do sometimes in echoes remember our previous unease, we’ll have forgotten exactly where that unease had been directed – what once was a sharp arrow will have become blunt, become dust, and we’ll shrug our shoulders and say, I don’t know, I don’t know, leave me alone, I’m watching TV.


And that, my friends, is how some people define growing up.


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