Dachau (May 15)

Today’s blog will be more somber tone, since today we visited the concentration camp, Dachau. Dachau, located outside of Munich, was the first concentration camp opened by the Nazis prior to World War II. It was liberated by the US army in 1945, after running for about 12 years. It was surreal to be walking on the grounds of a place with so much history. The weather was beautiful, and the area was quiet and peaceful. These conditions stood in stark contrast to the heavy weight of the past atrocities of the camp, as though this was the calm after the storm that had passed 80 years ago.

Our tour guide took us through the remnants of the camp, giving us details about what we saw around us. The conditions that the prisoners faced were dehumanizing. Prior to visiting, I wondered why prisoners didn’t try to escape, but after seeing the obstacles that stood in their way, I understood. Dachau is surrounded by an electric fence, topped by barbed wire. In addition to that, there is a deep trench surrounding the interior of the fence, with barbed wire spools placed at the base of the fence. There were also 7 guard towers, with frequent patrols by security personnel. After being malnourished and emaciated, prisoners had little chance of conquering these obstacles.

During our tour, we found ourselves at the on-site crematorium, where deceased prisoners were burned. The crematorium also contained a gas chamber, where prisoners were taken to be systematically eliminated. We had the opportunity to walk through the gas chamber and crematorium. Being inside such a place gave me an eerie feeling. To know that so many lives had been extinguished here was uncanny. After being cremated, the ashes of the dead were scattered aimlessly around the area of the crematorium. A memorial to those who perished here stands outside of the building.

The Crematorium
The Cremation Furnaces

We then toured the prisoners’ barracks. This was no place of rest or respite for the prisoners, but rather another place to be tortured. Inmates were crammed into places designed for much fewer people, sleeping in bunks stacked three beds high. The camp guards used arbitrary rules to punish prisoners, citing things such as messy quarters or dirty dishes as reason to lash or poll hang inmates. I can’t fathom how hard it must have been to survive such conditions.

Finally, we toured the museum, which is housed in the largest building of what used to be the camp. The museum contained many interesting artifacts and pieces of information from the dark past of the camp. Of these remnants, I found the original gate of the camp to be most interesting. The gate, cast in cold steel, is inscribed with the taunting, tortuous words “Arbeit Macht Frei.” In English, this phrase translates to “work sets you free.” I found this to be a prime example of the mental torture that prisoners faced during their time here at Dachau.

Dachau’s Original Gate

After the tour today, I think it’s important to reflect on what I’ve learned. What happened in this camp was terrible, but the history of the camp has had an important effect on the world around us. I think the words written on one of the memorials at Dachau put it best. They read “May the example of those exterminated here between 1933-1945, because they resisted Nazism, help unite the living for the defence of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow men.” It is important that we learn from the past in order to protect the future, and ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.

Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you all tomorrow.

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