Today was the hardest day on the trip for me as we visited Dachau, the Nazi concentration camp. While Dachau was a “working” camp and not one designed specifically for killing, it was brutal. Having already toured the Holocaust museum in Washington DC and Yad Vashem in Israel, Dachau was too real to me to truly process. The weather added to the misery as it was the coldest and rainiest day on the trip. The dismal weather combined with the historical background made it seem like we had just been transported back in time. While I say that, I know I can NEVER truly comprehend the horrors that the people in this camp had to endure.
Before we entered the gates, I started to get choked up and developed goosebumps. I knew this visit would be hard for me. As one of the only Jewish students on the trip, I decided to stay in the back of the group. I was glad that all would see what happened here, but I knew I might have an especially tough time. After arriving at Dachau, we met our tour guide and after a quick introduction, we began. She started our tour with the real buildings that people used while they were imprisoned at Dachau. One of the first places that the tour guide took us to was a memorial area where there were many wreaths of flowers. Even though it started to rain hard these flowers still looked beautiful. She told us these were for all of the nationalities of the many people who died here. I was astonished to see the wide variety of flowers not knowing the magnitude of all of the different nationalities that were persecuted. Later on, she told us a story about a child who lost a button on his concentration camp jacket. This story was a perfect example of how the Jewish people and others were so viciously punished. The story tells that this child had a button on his jacket fall off. He desperately tried to put it back on ,but with nothing to string it together he put it in his pocket. One Nazi officer noticed the missing button and so he was punished. However, the punishment did not stop there. Not only was he punished for having his button off, but was given a second punishment due to the fact that he had the button in his pocket! As our tour guide told us the demonic punishment, I truly became sick knowing children had to endure depraved and vicious penalties due to such miniscule reasons. The child had his hands tied behind his back and then over his shoulders. He was then hung from the ceiling until his shoulders became dislocated. Depraved, demonic and just sick.
Moving on, we were next shown items that were taken from people when they arrived at Dachau. After looking at a pocket watch and pictures of family members, I imagined people pleading with the Nazis begging them not to take the few valued objects that belonged to them. I could almost hear their voices. Throughout the tour, I kept thinking how truly unbelievable this was and how it happened. How were people for such a long time treated like animals? Treated worse than animals? Thoughts started racing through my head that made me nauseous. Next, we moved on to visit the living quarters. While sitting on a wooden bench the tour guide demonstrated how cramped the people lived in here. She pointed to me and the three medium- large guys sitting to my right. She told our group of 4 that if we had been here at this sickening time that we would all have had to share one bed. While all of us were relatively big and the bed was small, the tour guide reminded us how the people were barely fed and that they were only skin and bones. Imagining people enduring this kind of diabolical existence, became a little too much for me at this time. I needed a second to myself. I decided to stay in the first room to settle myself while the group moved onto another room. While my parents had tried to prepare me for this day, I really did not realize how much it would affect me. Clearly others in my group were horrified, but I was beyond that.
The gas chambers were last. Before arriving there, we stopped at a little bridge where our tour guide continued to share horrific atrocities. First, however she asked us how many people we thought successfully escaped Dachau. After a few guesses, she revealed to us that just one person. Just a single man escaped out of the 206,000 people that were at this camp. Unbelievable. She pointed out to one of the guys on our trip who was wearing a hat. She told us how the Nazis dealt with people who wore them. Guards would throw a person’s hat off this bridge, and then tell the person to retrieve it. Now the person had two choices- either to obey the order and risk getting shot or disobey the order and be killed for not obeying to the guard. This was made even more depraved considering the fact that the guards only did this for their own amusement and entertainment. I know this all happened, but it almost seemed as if the greatest horror writer could not even have made this up.
The gas chambers were tough. Even though they were never used at this site, I imagined how scared shitless people at the other camps must have been. The thoughts of the screams filled my head. It was just depraved. When the tour concluded, we were allowed free time to view the museum. While I listen to stories recorded by Holocaust survivors, I thought about a friend of my father’s who joined us for Thanksgiving for several years. She was a Holocaust survivor. While she has passed away, I remember her well.
Once we arrived back to our hotel, I needed to talk to my parents. I was a little emotional from the day. They tried to help me with what I saw, but they could not truly understand. You have to see it. This was an experience that I will never forget.