Dachau. Do you recognize that word? If you do not, the residents of the German town of Dachau are overjoyed. If you do recognize that word, then you know that Dachau was the site of one of Nazi Germany’s most infamous concentration and death camps. It is estimated that 200,000 Jews, Communists, homosexuals, and other groups considered inferior by Hitler’s Third Reich lost their lives in the crematoriums at Dachau.
In the mid-seventies, my wife and I drove into the town of Dachau along with a group of American college students. To our surprise, we found the city in a festive mood, but that surprise faded when we understood that the residents of Dachau were staging a big parade that celebrated the town’s medieval past.
The parade filled the main streets of the town, and we were obliged to wait until the parade was over before we could ask where we would find the infamous death camp.
Watching that parade and standing with joyous residents of Dachau has to be one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had. While I did not assume that the town residents whom we saw celebrating were involved in the death camp, I thought it likely that they were friends or descendants of those who did Hitler’s bidding thirty years before.
Jesus’ phrase about “whitewashed tombs,” those looking clean and bright on the outside but dead underneath, comes to mind as I recall that memory. There was something so obviously forced about the festivities in Dachau. The whole experience was like someone saying, “Look at our town’s glorious past and forget about that camp outside of town.”
But are we so different? One of the main emphases of critical race theory (CRT) here in our country and elsewhere in the world is that what we know of the past, what we’ve been told and taught is our history, often hides what is painful and shameful. Consider the following two examples.
Monticello. Many people like to visit Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia. Until recently, visitors on the Monticello tour were shown the magnificent architecture of the main structures and the site’s beautiful grounds. Now, visitors are told about the daily lives of slaves—the men, women, and children who worked without pay to keep those grounds and buildings so beautiful. Visitors also learn about the six children whom Jefferson fathered with his slave Sally Hemings.
Some visitors have complained, saying the tour makes them uncomfortable. What they learn on the tour doesn’t match the image they have of one of our nation’s most prominent founding fathers. They want to encounter and honor the man who wrote, “All men are created equal,” not the slaveholder who violated those words every day of his life at Monticello.
Tulsa. What happened in this major city in Oklahoma had been so buried that most Black Americans didn’t know until recently what occurred in 1921. Until May 31, 1921, Tulsa had a street in the Greenwood District known as Black Wall Street, a neighborhood of successful and middle-class businesses built and patronized by the city’s Black residents.
Something on that last day in May 1921, perhaps simple jealousy, led the white residents of the city to go on a rampage, a mob killing scores of Black Tulsans and burning to the ground 1,400 homes and businesses of the Black community. 10,000 people were displaced.
To the credit of the city’s current leaders, Tulsa is not following the example of Dachau. The citizens of Tulsa know that it is only by facing our cities and our nation’s past that we can do what we must do to heal—admit the truth and repent.
Future historians won’t miss the irony of this time in our nation’s history when churchgoing political leaders are the very ones campaigning to ban books and restrict teaching the truth of our nation’s past.
Why, in God’s name, are we so afraid of repenting?