Before I get into what I saw today, I want to preface by saying that there won’t be many pictures as I didn’t feel right walking around the former concentration camp like a tourist. I am also going to be blunt about what I saw.
When we took the bus over I was already feeling pretty solemn, I’ve read a lot about the Holocaust in school and knew what I was going to see. The weather didn’t help the atmosphere either because it was cold and rainy. When we got the the camp, we entered through the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign, translated to “work sets you free”. The camp was pretty large, but only a few of the buildings were still standing. You could still see the foundations of the barracks where the prisoners used to live, but only one such building was left standing. As we walked to the main building, we passed a lot of wreathes gifted from countries and groups around the world.
We then went into the main building where a lot of the administration happened to run the camp. The tour guide explained to us the history of the camp. It started as a prison for political opponents to Hitler and was the first concentration camp. Throughout the camp’s operation, 32,000 people were killed.
The tour guide told us a story about a man who was working and he had his shirt button fall off while doing so. He hurried up and pocketed the button so he could reattach it later before the SS guards noticed his uniform was defective. When they returned to Dachau, an SS guard found the man and punished him twice, once for having an improper uniform, and the other for putting the button in his pocket. As a punishment, the man’s hands were bound behind his back then he was hung by his hands on a wooden beam for an hour dislocating both of his shoulders. That story wasn’t just a one time act of cruelty, but it was what normal day to day life was like in the camp.
After the museum portion, we went to see the barracks. Not surprisingly, they were not good conditions for people to live in. The beds were stacked on top of each other and were often poorly build. The prisoners, especially in later years, often had to share the beds with three other people. The barracks were overcrowded, which meant disease spread like crazy. It was just insane for me to imagine people living in those conditions. Even worse was the Nazi propaganda about the camps, showing healthy men in normal conditions while the camps were over crowded and the prisoners were basically walking skeletons.
After seeing the barracks, we walked to the crematorium and gas chambers. All the prisoners were burned, meaning there were no graves or markings for the dead. This just speaks to how brutal the Nazi’s were and how they wanted to destroy the memory of all these people. When the prisoners were admitted to the camp, they got branded with a serial number. That’s what they were called by, not their name, from then onward. It was insane to think about.
The gas chambers at Dachau were built later on but never used. No one is sure why this is. When I went into the chamber, which was optional, I just felt a sense of dread and disgust that such things were ever built. I stood in there for a while and just thought about how the people in here would be killed. The chambers were directly next to the crematorium, so lots of people could be put through the process very quickly. Another thing I realized was that prisoners worked the crematoriums, shoving the bodies of the peers into the flames. The museum talked about how when a prisoner was executed, they would hang them in front of the ovens. The whole camp was diabolic.
Leaving the camp, I took away a lot of insight into the Holocaust and a better understanding for how truly horrible the whole thing was. I also feel the need to mention that the Germans today are incredibly aware of this fact, and have taken a huge responsibility as a nation to making sure something like that never could happen again. I was really impressed by how they handled this part of their history.