Day 8: Work Will Set You Free

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Today was a pretty hard day. We went to Dachau, one of the concentration camps located in Germany. The day started out okay. The bus didn’t leave until 9, so we had a little extra time in the morning. I used this time to mentally prepare myself for what was about to come. I wasn’t sure how I would handle seeing a concentration camp, so I was trying to get ready for what was ahead of us. However, I feel like nothing can prepare you for being up close and personal in a place that contributed to the torturing and death of millions of Jewish people (among others).

Okay. So, we get there and I think I’m ready for what was to come. Although the initial shock of being there did not hit me as much as I had expected it to, it still hit me. Where I was. What had happened there not all that long ago. It was intense. Everyone was nearly silent from the moment we stepped foot into the campground.

We started our day with a tour. I was excited because I’ve always been interested in the Holocaust. I’m not quite sure why, but I am. The tour started with some background on the Holocaust and why the concentration camps were started. One really interesting thing that I learned was that there were no death camps located in Germany, but rather in the surrounding countries such as Poland and Austria. This history lesson was located just outside of the gates to the camp, so on we went, through the gates. As we entered, we learned that the original gate disappeared a few years ago, but turned up earlier this year somewhere in Poland, which I found kind of funny. Who would steal a gate door?

The gate to enter read “Arbeit macht frei,” or “work will set you free.” This hit me hard. As we learned, these camps were inspected every now and then to ensure that they were still somewhat “humane,” so the Nazis would make it seem as though this camp was good. They managed to make it seem like the prisoners were sufficiently nourished and healthy, even though that was nowhere near the case. I think that in the door saying that the harder they worked, the more likely they were to be released, it was a way to make it seem, to these inspectors, that the camp was humane. That the prisoners had a chance at being released. Unfortunately, that too was not true.

So, we enter the camp and my initial reaction is that it’s a lot larger than I thought it would be. I had this image of how big it would be in my head, but that did not compare to seeing it in person. We entered into the big area where they would conduct role call, then we made our way around the entirety of the camp, seeing the barracks, the gas chambers, everything. The gas chambers really hit me too because of how they conducted this procedure. First, the prisoners would be told that they were going to get a shower, so they would walk into another room and leave all of their belongings there. Then, they would go into the next room, where there were shower heads on the ceiling, but in reality, they were gassed and killed here. Then, the next room over was the incinerator where these bodies were burned. Wow. Just wow. How could someone possible be okay with this?

After the tour of the campgrounds, we got an expedited tour of the museum with our tour guide who took us to only the most important parts. Outside of the museum, there were a few pieces of art. The first was a memorial wall. The second, and most prominent one to me, was a representation of the bodies in the barbed wire and electric fences. It was really hard just looking at it. And, the last one was another memorial sculpture that I didn’t get the chance to look at close up.

We ended our tour at the museum and we had a little bit of time to look around ourselves. I decided to go into another building where they had a whole bunch of rooms that were used to confine people into small spaces for periods of time with little to no food, water or human contact. Then, I ended my time at Dachau with a trip to the gift shop. I didn’t buy anything but I did get to look around at all of the books they had about Dachau and the Holocaust in general.

Since today was such a hard day for everyone, it ended pretty early. We got back to the hotel in the early afternoon. Today, however, was also the day that the presentation coming up finally started to hit us, so we contacted our group and ended up spending the rest of the day at the library at the University working on our presentation about SGL. What a great way to end a pretty dreary day :/

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