As you might be able to guess from the title, today was a much more somber but important historic visit to the small town of Dachau. This is where the first concentration camp was built by the Nazis during World War II. We first met our tour guide, Stefanie, who was incredible at explaining the camp’s history. When we first entered through the gate into the main area, I was shocked by how massive it was. At its peak, the camp held nearly 40-50,000 inmates, which was responsible for the overcrowding and horrific living and working conditions. We first went near the camp’s outer fence and saw the deep trench that separated the fence and the main grass area. Inmates were not allowed on the grass area near the fence, and if they were found there, they would be shot by machine guns from one of the many tall watchtowers. It was saddening to learn that some inmates would even purposely go near the fence as suicide, but they were reported by the SS (guards) as that they were trying to escape.
Behind the fence was the crematorium, which was definitely the most horrifying part of the tour to imagine. The large crematorium had many rooms. The first room was where inmates would wait until they were called. Before entering the next room, they were told that they would be entering a shower, so they removed their clothes and entered the next room. Then, they were called to enter the “showers,” which were fitted with fake showerheads. But instead of water, poisonous gas filled the room. The next room was where the furnaces were located. It was shocking to learn that they would shove 2-3 bodies into one furnace. Finally, the SS would take the ashes and scatter them across the ground, simply with no respect.
We then walked over to the barracks to learn about the inmates’ living conditions. Inside, we saw how the beds were arranged. They looked very small and uncomfortable; after all, the mattresses were made from thin straw. It was also surprising to learn that the barracks were not a place for rest after a long workday. Inmates were expected to keep the windows and floors clean (literally shining), and they were punished if there was even a speck of grease or dirt on the floors. The bathrooms also looked insanely unbearable.
Finally, we made our way to the main building, which housed kitchens, canteen, and several other rooms for various purposes. Now, it is a museum with hundreds of large floating posters and reproduced and original artifacts that tell the story of the camp from beginning to end. One of the most horrific facts was that meals for the prisoners were small and severely lacking in nutrients. For example, they might have a soup which was just hot water with some peas and a small piece of bread. For them to eat so little but perform strenuous labor made it nearly impossible to survive. This also made it difficult for tens of thousands of inmates to rebel against just hundreds of SS guards. They simply had no energy or bodily strength to do so.
Visiting Dachau was an extremely eye-opening visit that I am very grateful to have experienced. I’ve learned about the Holocaust in school, but that cannot compare to literally standing where thousands of innocent individuals were murdered and taking in the history at a more personal level. I also think it is very important that all around the camp and museum, it is emphasized that we should never forget the horrors that were committed and that the existence of the former camp is a reminder that something like this should never occur again. Unfortunately, inhumane treatment and genocide are still issues today in other parts of the world. Although I could not cover everything from the visit, I hope this blog post was as insightful to you as it was for me. Until next time.