When I was Twenty-One . . .

A secret writer from a pragmatic blue-collar neighborhood, Marie White Small brings her skills as a florist, waitress, antiquarian bookseller, bookbinder, cook, and pie-baker to the page.


When I was twenty-one in 1974, I spent two days at Dachau Concentration Camp in upper Bavaria. It was preserved as a memorial for all those who had died there: communists and social democrats, dissidents, trade unionists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, criminals, gypsies, Roman Catholic clergy and nuns—but more predominately, Jewish families—muters and foters, kinder and babes in arms, zaydes and bubbes, aunties and patriarchs of ancient families.

Back then I knew some of the history of the infamous concentration camps and the Holocaust, but witnessing the darkness and solemnity of such a place—displays depicting images of medical experiments, photographs of gaunt hollowed out human beings, rooms filled with shoes, shorn hair, the gas chambers and crematoriums, and more—the capacity of man’s inhumanity to man—was driven home to me. I toured those haunted grounds where so many died, tiptoeing across the now grassy lawns and fields, fearful that I was walking on graves. That land imbued me with a sense of responsibility to understand and speak out.

I lived in Germany for the next year in a beautiful town rebuilt on rubble from allied bombings, while most nights those Dachau images haunted my dreams. When I returned to the United States, I attended discussion groups at the beautiful synagogue around the corner from where I lived. I needed to process what I had seen. I needed to understand.

How did Germany get to such a place where everyday people turned their backs on their neighbors and friends? It began with crippling inflation, families not able to feed their children, and the rise of authoritarianism with its companions of xenophobia, nationalism, and punitive policies. The ills of the post Great War society were blamed on the Jews and others viewed as different or separate. Germany was not the only country in the