Day 8 was our trip to Dachau which was a concentration camp located near Munich. I originally thought all concentration camps were extermination camps, but we learned that thats not necessarily the case. Some camps were “reeducation” camps including Dachau. Dachau included many minorities including Jews, Italians, Russians, Slavs, political prisoners, political enemies, and gays. Dachau also served as a “show”concentration camp meaning that it was used as an example when European officials questioned whether or not concentration camps were humane and legal. Hitler and the Nazis obviously made this particular camp nicer looking and a little more humane. They also said that Dachau was strictly used for political enemies and prisoners.
I expected visiting the camp to make me feel very depressed, but being there brought on many more emotions than I anticipated. It was very disturbing to see the sleeping areas where they would fit up to three people on a wooden board that was no more than three feet wide. I also distinctly remember walking on the gravel path between the barracks and thinking of how many prisoners took the exact same walk. This made everything very real to me and really put things into perspective. We saw a large statue by an artist that depicted contorted bodies stuck in an electrical fence (seen below). This represents the many prisoners that would commit suicide by throwing their bodies onto the electric fence surrounding the perimeter of the camp. Women were forced to be prostitutes for prisoners that would voluntarily torture and kill other prisoners for the guards. These prisoners were also rewarded in the form of alcohol and cigarettes. We also saw the area where famous or “special” prisoners were to be executed and many monuments that were erected after the liberation of the camp. For me the most emotional part of the tour was seeing the gas chamber. I learned all about gas chambers throughout high school but actually being there was an entirely different experience. The prisoners were crammed into a small room and told to undress to go into a “shower room.” They were then locked into this camber for 20 minutes while the gas slowly killed them. The bodies were then thrown into the crematorium and burned. At the conclusion of the tour we went to the bunker which was essentially the area designated area for torturing. Inside the bunker is a long hallway that has a very eerie and haunting feeling to it. Off of the hallway are many small rooms where the torturing would take place. A unique type of torture they used was to lock prisoners in a very compact vertical looking coffin. They would be locked in these coffins for usually three days without food or water.
Dachau was an extremely emotional and interesting trip and I think its something everyone should see. Its one thing to learn about the Holocaust in a classroom or through a documentary, but its a completely different experience to see it first hand and in person. What people went through in concentration camps was beyond awful and I believe that everyone should use that time period as a lesson to ensure that we don’t repeat the past in any form regarding the treatment of minorities.