In respect to the purpose of the day and to match the mood we would all be enveloped in, the weather was gloomy and rainy today. We were going to visit Dachau, the first concentration camp in Germany, to see firsthand the darkest parts of German history we learnt through texts and classes. For this reason, this post will focus more on the historical significance of the Holocaust and revolve around the theme of tyrannical oppression. Blogs for the first week were also due today, so as we travelled to Dachau, I was busy converting my notes into an understandable series of words. Try as I might, I wasn’t able to capture my deep appreciation of Germany and the sincere love for the people I met and worked with in my words.
When we finally arrived, it was lightly raining. I noticed that the land surrounding Dachau was rather desolate. Seeing no traces of industrialization, besides the poorly maintained road, I figured the concentration camp was selectively chosen since the factory that was converted into a camp was in a remote and abandoned location. It was definitely clever, as we learned on the tour that the operations of the camp were kept incredibly quiet and secretive to the public. We met our tour guide and started our history lesson at the gate: the infamous entrance to the camp, and the end of people’s blissful lives as they entered.
At the entrance, prisoners were told that “work sets them free”. It was meant to give a little bit of hope (I’m not quite sure why as they worked to strip down hope literally minutes later), and to frame the concentration camps as useful work centers, where prisoners would be productive to society. We learned that Dachau was a rather diverse concentration camp, with a composition of 50% political opponents of Hitler, 25% Jewish people, and 25% other underrepresented minorities who the government didn’t like or wanted to blame. The gate may seem restricting but as you walk through, you walk into a very spacious area where prisoners waited to become a part, a numerical, faceless part of the camp.
Here was where the new prisoners went through a roll call and experienced the harsh conditions that they would be facing in the camp. If they disobeyed, even slightly, they would be tormented for hours in a manner of cruel, unusual, and creative ways. It was the first step of breaking down peoples’ will to live and hope of a future. When we went inside, to the museum area of Dachau, I understood this torment in 2 manners: through work treatment and living/sleeping conditions.
The concentration camps are a projection of Hitler’s reign: control through terror. He controlled the people who believed in him by terrorizing them of his opponents (whether it be people in Germany or the other countries they were at war with), and he controlled the people against him by terrorizing them with brute physical force and power. Visiting Dachau put a human perspective to this, as we saw the places people were abused; we were told of a story of how a young guy whose uniform button broke off was hung after his arms were broken so the flexible demands of the cruel position he was put in would be met. We saw quotes and read little anecdotes from survivors, and they really hit home. Here is one of those quotes/excerpts.
If the prisoners weren’t being harassed in the “workplace”, they were constantly reminded of their situation during off hours due to their living environments. They slept in wooden blocks – I don’t feel justified calling them beds – that were stacked in 3s and set up in rows of 10. They’re depicted below.
And these were the good beds. As the war went on, the beds got worse – a representation of the declining humanity under Hitler’s reign. The dividers between beds were eliminated and more people (3x more) were stuffed into slots that were originally assigned per person. They weren’t given a place to rest, and they weren’t given appropriate nutrition – resulting in an average weight of 40kg or 95 pounds per prisoner – essentially bone weight. By stripping away basic human needs of shelter, food, and water, it’s a wonder that people in concentration camps survived so long. As I walked through these restored quarters and read the panels that described the different rooms, I tried to imagine myself here and couldn’t fathom having the will to live for more than a few weeks. I truly marveled at how people survived – realizing that many didn’t – and had a new respect for Holocaust survivors.
We were eventually taken to a more morbid place, to represent the different methods of cremation or “disposal” of the bodies of persons who didn’t survive. Of people who were murdered by the system. I think those sights, crudely displayed in the images below, hit home the hardest. I couldn’t look too long – they made the meaning of Holocaust deaths very, very real.
At the conclusion of the tour, we were given some time to roam around the museum and experience the different parts of the history for ourselves. I chose to wander area #4 where social issues concerning diversity topics were explored in depth, as I am most passionate about matters in social politics. I started with a topic really close to heart – sexuality – and learnt of the treatment of gay people in concentration camps. As expected, they were one of the most hated, and the worst treated, group in German concentration camps. This came as no surprise to me since homosexuality was (and still is) universally hated for how different it is from the norm and Hitler’s reign specifically hated anything different from the perfect Aryan race. Below is a picture of the panel that highlights homosexuality in the concentration camps, a panel I’ve come back to many times since it allows me to really empathize with the other underrepresented and minority groups at the concentration camps.
Gay people weren’t the only ones that were discriminated against in the concentration camps. There were a whole series of c categories to hate on people, depicted below.
This system of labeling people with the symbols above in patches attached to uniforms reminded me of segregation, and immediately made me think of our country’s history. We segregated, and there were many people who thought it was acceptable — even fought to continue the practice. The only difference was the times they were done – our segregation took place decades before Germanys’ and was a lot less of a global occurrence. At the same time we segregated, other European countries – the same neighbors that fought Germany – did similar things to the Holocaust, in different countries: Imperialism. I realized how parallel suppression and segregation are – to enforce one, you need the other. I read the rest of the panels of all the different groups of people and grew disheartened at the different excuses Germans gave for hating on their own fellow humans. Below are pictures of the panels that really stuck out to me. I’ve saved these to go back to in the future sometime, and I invite you to read them as well.
It was hopeful to see that Germany doesn’t hide from its past. As the tour guide mentioned, renovated concentration camps like these exist so that history is not forgotten, and so the children of the future of the country don’t make the same mistakes.
At the hotel, we had a really thoughtful discussion for about an hour, where Dr. Feick helped to fill in some of the gaps and questions we still had a group. It was a way to process what we had seen and truly learn an important lesson of peace and acceptance.
We went back upstairs at around 3, and Jeff and I decided to take a nap together. We set alarms for 4, 4:30, 5, and 5:30. I woke up at 6:30. We were so exhausted, we had literally slept through all our alarms, which is surprising because I can’t stand that stupid song Jeff uses as a ringtone: it’s literally in my nightmares. Don’t worry, this isn’t me trash talking him since that song is usually accompanied (about 5 seconds later) with me yelling about how much I hate it. Regardless, we went to dinner together at our typical Doner place. Funny thing, every single kid (20/20) went to that Doner place – the first group went at 6:00 and as they were coming back they bumped into the second group heading out at 6:30. And then Jeff and I bumped into them as they were coming back, when WE were heading out, at 7:30. We had a nice, long, deep, personal conversation and came back around 9:00. We were so invested in our conversation that we didn’t get gelato – the second group raved about this 1 euro per scoop place right next to Doner. I mention this, because this night, Jeff and I didn’t have ice cream! But that’s okay because we had so many blogs to do that we weren’t even thinking about ice cream. Naturally, we got in bed to type a little here and edit a little there, and instead spent 3 hours going through my private instagram and all my saved content. Some may say it was a waste of time, but (1) when are me and Jeff ever productive together? and (2) I laughed so much I feel like I built abs. As if I don’t work out in Germany, psh. Anyways, we fell asleep at 4:00 am, after the last blog was successfully posted. I’ll see you in 3 hours! 🙂