Today was the darkest and most somber day of the trip by far. We visited Dachau, the first of the Nazi concentration camps opened in 1933. The weather was cold and rainy, which definitely added to the dark and dreary mood. We had all been preparing for the tough trip ahead of us.
Once we arrived at the site, our tour guide, Claudia, took us through the camp and explained its history. In one of the buildings, we saw a room where many of the punishments would occur. One story that Claudia told us really stuck with me because I think that it truly represented the horrors of Dachau. She told us about one prisoner who lost a button on his uniform one day, and as a punishment was forced to hang from a bar for one hour with his hands tied together. The worst part of the story was that his hands were tied together first and then brought up above his head, which is painful enough just to hear about, let alone experience it. It is difficult for me to imagine all the pain and torture that these prisoners had to endure and standing in the same place that the prisoners were once tortured in is a feeling that will be with me forever.
The guards in these concentration camps did not like educated people, so it was always better to take on a profession in the lower class for yourself, such as a baker, tailor, or farmer rather than a writer or scientist. They needed workers from the lower class, so those with professions in the lower class would be treated slightly better than those in the upper class. It is horrible that those who worked so hard to be educated and have a professional job were punished for it.
We eventually got to see the prisoners’ living quarters, and after seeing the beds there I will never complain about dorm rooms again. During the early days of the concentration camp, there would be about four people who shared one bed, and at first there would be about 160 people in one big room, but eventually there were 1600 people sharing one room. We had the chance to see these rooms, and I cannot imagine one bed fitting four people, let alone 1600 people sharing one room together. Our tour group alone seemed a bit crowded in the bedroom, so the horrors of concentration camps seem unfathomable. Claudia said that the average prisoner weighed about 80 pounds, but I still have trouble picturing four people in each of those tiny beds. Being in the living quarters really put the prisoners’ lives in perspective for me. They had to wake up early in the morning, put on their thin uniforms, and go outside to work no matter what the weather conditions were like. Not surprisingly, due to these conditions it was extremely easy to get sick because there were so many people in such close proximity. The prisoners were also often used as medical experiments. Doctors would test drugs on them, and in one experiment some of the prisoners were infected with malaria, and many died. It was difficult listening to these stories because of how inhumanely the prisoners were treated.
Throughout all of Dachau’s years, only one prisoner managed to successfully escape. One man escaped in 1933, which was the year Dachau opened. After the first year, prisoners were no longer healthy, and it was very difficult to escape the guards, who often messed with the prisoners. If a guard took a prisoner’s hat and threw it, the prisoner would be punished and possibly executed whether he retrieved the hat or not. Retrieving the hat could be seen as an attempt to escape, but not retrieving the hat meant the prisoner was disobeying orders. There was no winning in this horrible situation.
Overall, I feel that the trip to Dachau was a necessary, although difficult, one. I think visiting and experiencing such a dark time in history is important, and I think I left Dachau as a better person. Seeing the horrors of a concentration camp first-hand really made me appreciate my privileged life, as well as those who were not as fortunate and had to face many hardships. I will never be able to understand how people felt no remorse treating those prisoners the way they did, but it is important for us to learn from the past and treat everyone as equals and accept everyone, no matter what.
On a lighter note, all of us ended up at Döner (our favorite place) for dinner (in three separate groups one after another, which was funny). After eating the delicious sandwiches, a group of us went to get gelato that only cost one euro per scoop! We were all shocked at the cheap price, considering in America it usually costs at least three dollars for a scoop of ice cream at a shop. It was a nice end to a long, tough day.
Tomorrow is our last company visit at SGL, and I am very excited to be one step closer to being done with the final presentations!