Aaron David Fruh

Coach Dale Brown: The Railroad Tie in Auschwitz That Changed My Life

Coach Dale Brown. Used with Permission.

I work for a non-profit organization called Israel Team Advocates. Our focus is on exposing the dark history of Christian Antisemitism and Christian nationalism that has led to to the genocide of Jews over the centuries. We work on Christian and secular college campuses in an attempt to push back against the growing scourge of Antisemitism. We recently published a book with sixteen authors entitled The Casualty of Contempt—The Alarming Rise of Antisemitism and What Can be Done to Stop It. One of the authors is Dale Brown. Dale served as the head men’s basketball coach of the LSU Tigers for twenty-five years. On nine occasions Coach Brown was selected as the SEC Coach of the Year or runner-up Coach of the Year. He was also chosen two times as the National College Basketball Coach off the Year. He is a member of the National Coaches Hall of Fame and selected by Bleacher report as one of the fifty greatest coaches in college basketball history. Coach Brown is one of only seven coaches in SEC history to have led their teams to two Final Four playoffs or more. Coach Brown and Coach Rupp of Kentucky are the only SEC coaches in history to have seventeen non-losing seasons.

A documentary film about his legendary life is entitled, Man in the Glass: The Dale Brown Story. The film features an all-star cast including Matthew McConaughey, Shaquille O’Neal, and John Wooden.

The following is a condensed version of Coach Brown’s chapter in The Casualty of Contempt. The chapter is entitled The Railroad Tie in Auschwitz That Changed My Life:

I have traveled to over 90 countries in our world, but no international experience affected me so emotionally, markedly, even severely as the one to Krakow, Poland. The memory is etched so deeply in my conscience; it seems as though it were yesterday, even though it happened over thirty years ago. As my wife Vonnie and I enjoyed the culture of Krakow, there was a stirring inside of me to venture out about an hour’s drive from the city to a place I had researched and thought about for many years. On a sun-drenched morning, Vonnie and I rented a vehicle and headed out to the countryside. Though the sky was a stunning blue, my mood was somber at best. It was as if a paintbrush were covering the brilliantly colored sun-drenched landscape with a kind of melancholic grey with every mile of our journey to the scene of the world’s greatest crime. You see, just outside of Krakow—a city known for its museums, universities, and literature—stands the largest of the Nazi’s death camps, Auschwitz, and this dreaded place was our destination. As the road lengthened before us, my heart began to melt like wax because I sensed as if I were driving to the edge of the abyss itself. And now looking back, I realize my perceptions were accurate.

Gazing out the window as I drove, I imagined the far-off whistle of a train locomotive and the monotonous clickety-clack of steel wheels against iron tracks echoing and ricocheting off the wooden beams between the rails. The trees, like great walls lining both sides of the train tracks toward the crematoriums, stood straight and upright as if they were witnesses to the Nazi crime of genocide. As we drove, I thought of the survivors of Auschwitz who could never hear the innocent and mystical whistle of a locomotive again without that same sound bringing back the wretched memory of their fear-filled transports to uncertainty—cars normally used for cattle now moving Jewish human flesh compacted so tightly by the ever-efficient diabolical Nazis that little room was left for water or air. Coffins for the dead have more space. Pushed and crammed into the cars by willing Aryan soldiers—the first seed of Germany’s thousand-year Reich—and in many cases forced onto the trains by neighbors and acquaintances from their countries of origin, glad to dispose of what they called “Jewish vermin.”

As we traveled alongside the tracks to the death camp, I wondered why the allied forces, being well aware of the persecution and murder of the Jews in places like Treblinka, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Dachau, Buchenwald, Ravensbruck, Bergen-Belsen, and others, didn’t bomb the railroad tracks and at least slow the Nazi well-oiled program of Jewish extermination.

When we arrived at Auschwitz and noticed the tracks ended there—a sight that for me confirmed the precision of the Germans’ murderous intentions—I thought of the hundreds of thousands of Jewish men, women, and children who came down the ramps from those trains—some herded like sheep to the slaughter immediately into the gas chambers where they would be asphyxiated until dead by Ziklong B gas. As I walked through the entrance of Auschwitz, under the now-famous iron gate, which carries the German words Arbeit Macht Frei (“Work Sets you Free”), a kind of eerie and cold desolation arrested my soul—a feeling I have never forgotten.

As Vonnie and I entered the Auschwitz museum and looked upon the remnants of man’s inhumanity to man—mounds of shoes, luggage, eyeglasses, human hair shaved from the dead (tons of Jewish hair was sent to textile companies for the production of chair cushions, mattresses, and clothing for Germans), children’s clothes and dolls—all kinds of emotions began reverberating through my entire being. Tremendous anger, dread, confusion, and frustration worked in unison, tying my stomach in knots to the point I felt I needed to vomit. And then the tears started flowing down my cheeks. Somewhere in the background, I could hear a whispering voice muttering over and over again, “How in the hell was this possible?” The voice sounded pained, filled with desperation and angst—waiting for an answer that did not come. I looked around, wondering if others heard what I was hearing. I supposed the voice echoing off the walls of Auschwitz was someone in the museum overcome and undone by what they were seeing until it finally dawned on me that the voice was my own—crying out just under my breath, “How in the hell was this possible?”

Immediately I turned to Vonnie and said, “I cannot finish the tour right now. I have to go outside and get some fresh air.”

I remember walking down a little stone trail, feeling sick and faint as I went. With each step, almost rhythmically came the words again and again, “How in the hell could this happen?” I began to search my mind for the answer. How could this happen in one of the most sophisticated cultures on earth? A culture that gave us Handel, Beethoven, Bach, and great theologians and poets? How could a cultured people systematically and bestially—without common human feeling or regard for their fellow man—carry out such a heinous crime?Again, with rising dread the question sprang from my vocal cords, “How in the hell could this happen?”

The feeling of nausea began running through my veins. Closing my eyes, I reached out toward a nearby railroad tie that had been positioned vertically in the earth—like a fence post. I rested my hand there for a moment and looked up into the sky above Auschwitz, feeling the warmth of the sun on my tear-stained face. As I moved to pull my hand away, I realized my palm had been stretched across a plaque attached to the post. There on that roughly hewn railroad tie, I found the answer to the question I so desperately needed, for written on the plaque beneath my sweat-covered hand were these words:
“The road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference.” Ian Kershaw

When I read those words, I realized Hitler could never have acted alone in carrying out his hatred to such a cataclysmic end as the Final Solution to exterminate European Jewry. Nor could he have accomplished it with only the soldiers under his command. What Hitler needed were multitudes of German and European citizens—mostly baptized Christians—who would be indifferent to the slaughter of the Jews to such a degree they would collaborate with the Nazis in rounding up their Jewish neighbors. For multitudes of Europeans, indifference wasn’t just a matter of turning a blind eye toward the slaughter of Jews. It was a partnership with evil. They suppressed human empathy while knowingly cosigning the death certificates of Jews every time they pointed them out—willingly and in many cases gleefully—to the inquiring SS. By the time the killing stopped, in Auschwitz alone over one million one hundred thousand Jews had perished. In all, over six million Jewish people were led to their deaths with the assistance of non-military European citizens who attended church on Sunday mornings while somehow remaining indifferent to their role as accessories to mass murder. This is how the Holocaust could happen.

Evil is only able to exist because of total apathy. Ian Kershaw made that clear in his powerful statement, “The road to Auschwitz was built by hatred but paved with indifference.”

Edmund Burke, an eighteenth-century English statesman, alerted us those many centuries ago when he said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Nobody makes a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” A perfect example of this would be a prominent German pastor, Martin Niemöller, as he would famously confess after the war that he did not speak out on behalf of the Jews when the Nazis arrested them. His scorn and lack of empathy for the Jews was clear. He finally stated, “Our guilt as Christians was much greater than the guilt of the Nazis because we knew what was right. Six million Jews were cold-bloodily murdered in our midst and in our name.” By coming to terms with his past and dedicating his later life to the service of justice, peace, and love for one’s neighbors, he should inspire all of us to never let evil flourish. Dr. Harry Edwards, civil rights icon, said, “Silence is evil’s greatest ally.”

Only through an inner spiritual transformation do we gain the strength and courage to fight vigorously the evils of the world. Time is cluttered with the wreckage of communities that surrendered to hatred and violence. For the salvation of mankind, we must follow another way, it is called courage. Courage sustains itself in the face of difficulty and finds the strength to persevere boldly to face evil, danger, threats, fear, intimidation, and uncertainty. Multitalented Maya Angelo described courage perfectly when she profoundly stated, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”

My experience in a courtyard in Auschwitz leaning my hand against a roughly hewn railroad tie taught me that life lesson, and I pray to God I never forget it.

About the Author
Aaron David Fruh is a Research Fellow at The Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP) and the President of Israel Team Advocates, whose mission it is to change the growing anti-Israel narrative on college campuses. Aaron is the author of five books including The Casualty of Contempt: the alarming rise of Antisemitism and what can be done to stop it (editor), and Two Minute Warning: why it’s time to honor the Jewish people before the clock runs out. Aaron has written for The Jerusalem Post and The Algemeiner.
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