One stop during a four-week excursion through eight Western European countries turned into a makeshift memorial at the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial outside Munich, Germany.

Eighty students participated in the Marketing Study Abroad Program. It was led by Steve McDaniel, professor of marketing, and Chuck Tomkovick, visiting professor of marketing at Texas A&M.

Dachau, the first German concentration camp and the model for others, was particularly memorable to Lt. Col. Fred B. Machol, part of the U.S. Army forces that entered the camp the second day of its liberation. Machol’s granddaughter Lauren Machol, a marketing major, read some of the words he had written some 65 years earlier, then laid flowers at the site. Victoria Acuff, Lulu Chen, Skylar Collins and Rocky LaRoche shared their research on the topic, and Collins gave a moving tribute to the thousands who had died there.

“I saw more than I can forget,” Lt. Col. Machol wrote. Those young travelers understand.

Victoria Acuff read portions of an account written by a classmate's grandfather who was part of the liberating force at Dachau.
Victoria Acuff read portions of an account written by a classmate’s grandfather who was part of the liberating force at Dachau.

Prior to the visit a team of four students researched, wrote a report and gave a presentation on Dachau to the entire study-abroad group. The four students are Victoria Acuff, Lulu Chen, Skylar Collins, and Rocky LaRoche. For the oral presentation to the other students, the Dachau student team enlisted Lauren Machol to describe her grandfather’s experience there during World War II. Her grandfather, Lt. Col. Fred B. Machol, was part of the U.S. Army forces that entered Dachau after its liberation.

The Dachau student team took up donations from the study-abroad students for flowers and raised over $100. They purchased a flower arrangement and laid it at the base of the Dachau International Monument as a memorial tribute from Texas A&M University to the thousands of people who died there. Skylar Collins served as spokesperson for the students and, in a solemn ceremony, gave a tribute to the victims.

Lauren Machol laid a bouquet of flowers as a tribute to her grandfather, who died just a few months before the trip. She included a photograph of him taken during the time of his Army service.

(L to R) Rocky LaRoche, Victoria Acuff, Skylar Collins and Lulu Chen present a memorial wreath on behalf of Texas A&M.
(L to R) Rocky LaRoche, Victoria Acuff, Skylar Collins and Lulu Chen present a memorial wreath on behalf of Texas A&M.

McDaniel says it was a very emotional time as the students laid the wreath and as Collins made her presentation. “I was so proud of our Marketing Study Abroad students for all chipping in money to buy the flowers,” he says. “I had to wipe tears from my eyes during the student team’s presentation to our group the day before and also at the site. I was touched by the reverence shown by our students. They truly wanted to honor all those who died at Dachau and in the Holocaust.”

• • • • •

Collins, a graduate student in sports management who received a bachelor’s degree in marketing, calls the visit to Dachau “a surreal experience.” She describes the visit:

To walk the grounds of the first concentration camp, the camp that served as a model for places where so many innocent people lost their lives, was indescribable.

As I walked through the camp, enclosed by the fences, I could feel a presence in the place. I can feel the heaviness of the tragedies and atrocities that occurred in this place. Pictures of some of the prisoners hung in the main building, with descriptions of why they were there hanging below them. They were there because they were a political opponent, Jewish, a Gypsy, homosexual, etc. These were people that we are surrounded by daily. They were taken from their families, stripped of their possessions, and ruthlessly tortured and murdered because they were different.

The most chilling experience that day came when we walked over to Barrack X, or the gas chamber. The original gas chamber was still standing, but as the number of prisoners grew, a second, bigger gas chamber had to be built. When I first walked into this building, my heart and stomach dropped. I could feel a weight just land on my shoulders. I couldn’t help but think about the number of people who had lost their lives in this very place where I was standing at that moment. The crematorium was in the room right next to the gas chamber. The ovens were still in the room. Plaques on the wall described how multiple bodies were stuffed in this oven. They burned nonstop day and night.

Prisoners at the camp were made to burn the bodies of their fellow prisoners and clean out their ashes. Some they knew, some they didn’t. Either way, I couldn’t imagine having to do that – wondering if the next day it would be my body that is being crammed in this oven, never to return home and be buried by family? On the walls of the crematorium were pictures of bodies piled on top of each other in that very room I stood in. They hadn’t had time to burn all of them before the liberating troops took control of the camp. I can’t even begin to imagine what these people endured while at these camps. It was an experience I will never forget, and one I’m glad I got to have.