Mother’s day began for me at 8:00 AM after a restful night’s sleep. Following breakfast, we boarded our bus and began the trip to Dachau. While looking out the window as usual, I observed a number of interesting things. I saw signs for a political party called the Piraten (pirates), which seems like an outlandish name for a party. Apparently they are focused on internet freedom in this information age, but they have little support, so it does not seem like they are part of the extreme ends of the political spectrum that are gaining steam. I also noticed a number of previously unfamiliar car brands on the road, such as Renault, Skoda, and Opel. I am interested in knowing why they are not in the US. Perhaps they simply do not have the scale, or maybe the competition is too stiff. Additionally, it is not only the car brands that differ on the highways, but also the mix of traffic. On US highways, there are a ton of tractor trailers, but here in Germany, I see a much higher proportion of light vehicles. I am unsure if this has to do with the emissions of tractor trailers, a greater use of rail transport, or some other reason, but it was something I noticed, since I am so used to seeing many tractor trailers on the road.
There are also these little wooden towers that look like hunting stands dotting the farm fields outside of Augsburg. I have never seen such structures in American farm fields, so I wonder what their purpose is. I do not think that hunting is very common in Germany, so I think that they must have some other use. A final observation from the ride was that, of the seven wind turbines I saw on the horizon during the drive, six were actually working. Normally, in the US, half of the wind turbines one sees are not in working order, but here they actually seem to keep them functioning, which shows in the relatively large amount of electricity they get from wind power.
When we got to Dachau, it was cold and raining, and it stayed that way the whole time, which was appropriate for such a place. As we went through the camp on our tour, I was struck by how organized the whole system was. They had different patches for different types of prisoners, kept extensive records, and had a strict daily routine for the prisoners. That is typically German, but this operation was anything but typical, and it is pretty disturbing how cruelly efficient it all was. It was also sickening to hear about the punishment scheme at the camp. The guards would often deliberately force prisoners into a situation where they could not avoid punishment, and the punishment itself was brutal, especially considering how exhausted and overworked the prisoners were. It is truly hard to fathom how one could stand that existence. I would probably have just given up and surrendered my life, since it seems impossible that one could have hung on to any hope of survival. The barriers around the camp looked very formidable, and I was not surprised to hear that only one person escaped in the camp’s entire existence.
The living conditions inside the barrack we toured looked absolutely appalling, and I am honestly surprised that more prisoners did not die. Of 206,000 total inmates over 12 years, around 42,000 died, which, while still a lot of people, seems a little low for such bad conditions. I know that the death rate in other camps in Germany and the Soviet Union at that time were considerably higher. Also, it puzzled me why the gas chambers were built but never used. My guess is that they simply could not afford to lose more laborers as the war progressed, but I could be mistaken. The tour guide was very good and handled the topic appropriately, and overall, I felt that the experience, while sobering, was very educational and important for understanding German culture as it is today, since this period of their history still heavily affects the country and its politics.
The ride back from Dachau was uneventful, and when we got back to the hotel, we had a debriefing of the experience. I was happy to be able to give some additional insights into the Third Reich and Hitler when some other Americans asked questions, since I feel that the subject is poorly covered in American schools, with little being taught beyond the very basics. After an afternoon of work time, I went with a couple other guys to get some Döner and ice cream. In the ice cream shop, one of the employees was from Spain, so James seized the opportunity to practice his Spanish skills in Germany of all places. Then, having left the ice cream shop, we headed back to the hotel and prepared for our last company visit at SGL tomorrow. Today was certainly heavy, but I feel that the experience was worthwhile and valuable, since actually being at Dachau in person had a much greater effect than any book or other text could ever have.