Dachau Concentration Camp

27 Jun

As we walked up the gravel path – past the guard towers and to the gate – a strange feeling washed over me. Was it sadness? anger? pity? You could sense that the place had a troubled history. 

We passed through the black iron doors, like so many “prisoners” had done years past. And there above us, in the black wrought-iron door, read the infamous lie:

“Work will set you free.”

There we were. Inside the former concentration camp of Dachau. 

About 25 minutes outside of Munich, tucked on the outskirts of a little town by the same name, Dachau provided the ideal spot for Hitler’s first concentration camp. It was close enough to Munich, which was the headquarters of the Third Reich, and it was also in a small village, where the townspeople either turned a blind eye or were too scared to ask questions. 

Dachau’s history is long and complicated, beginning in 1933 when it was taken over by the SS with the purpose of housing political prisoners. It quickly turned into the first concentration camp and served as the model for other camps, such as aushwitgz. 

The former entry building and shower house is now a museum,  complete with artifacts, pictures, first-hand accounts and video from the past. Winding through the building, you pass through a timeline of events, from the rise of the SS and the creation of the camp all the way through to its liberation in 1945. 

Then passing outside the museum, you enter the role call area, where “prisoners” were forced to stand for hours in lines. 

From there, you can see recreations of two of the housing units – all of which had been destroyed after the war. The most shocking fact was not the small space, but the fact that the windows in the bunk house were thrown open during the cold winter months and nailed shut during the smoldering summers. As the camp became extremely overcrowded and disease spread quickly, I can’t even imagine what the living conditions were like. 

Overall, I was shocked at the size of the camp. It was much smaller than I had imagined, especially because it was home to more than 200,000 prisoners during the time it was in operation. (official records note that more than 30,000 died while in the camp and another 10,000 at it’s sub-camps)

Then, tucked in the back corner of the camp was a place that few were allowed to visit: the crematorium and gas chambers, both original to the camp. 

Although Dachau never used the gas chamber for mass murder, a massive amount of “prisoners” died from other causes – guns, exhaustion, disease, malnutrition – to name a few. 

When the camp was liberated in 1945, American soldiers found the crematorium packed full of bodies.  There were too many to get rid of. 

I can only describe the accounts from the soldiers, along with the pictures and facts as powerful reminders of the past. But they give us hope that nothing of the such will happen again. 

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One Response to “Dachau Concentration Camp”

  1. mom June 27, 2011 at 9:39 pm #

    Em,
    I believe out of all the travels that you have had this one has been the most sobering. Hard to imagine such horror and I too hope that we never see the likes of such tragedy again.
    So where are you these days…back in spain yet?
    Love you and miss you
    Mom

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