Dachau has been on my list of places to visit since we first looked at this tour and saw how close we would be to it on the Romantic Road.
I knew of Auschwitz of course but Dachau was less well known to me. It turns out Dachau was the first concentration camp on which all the others were based and most of the camp leaders were originally trained at Dachau and then promoted to camp leaders in other places.
Only part of the original camp remains and it has been intelligently made into a historical attraction, museum and memorial all in one. Entrance is free although there is a small charge for parking and then a short walk to the Information centre where you can browse the extensive bookshop or borrow an Audio guide.
Walking down further you enter the camp through the gates with the words “Arbeit Macht Frei” which means “work makes (you) free”.
Two of the barracks have been reinstated to give a semblance of the living conditions, but the most effective part is the museum in the Maintenance block which documents the rise of Nazism and conditions in the camp. Part of the tour is also a 20 minute film showing SS pictures and then the liberation videos from the camp, some of it was very harrowing.
At the other end of the enclosure are 4 religious memorials, plus a modern Convent instigated by a surviving priest from Dachau. There is the Jewish Memorial, the Russian Orthodox Chapel and the Catholic Chapel plus the Protestant Church of Reconciliation. The Church of Reconciliation touched me greatly as the Protestant Church had supported the “Nazified” version of Christianity and this church is a demonstration of the forgiveness possible by those that survived Dachau.
To the left of the memorials is the Crematorium area. Having seen many documentaries, plus already visited the museum I thought I knew what to expect. My first experience was not expected though, I walked into one of the holding rooms and realised this was where the bodies were piled up before being burnt and I was overcome with emotion. I quickly exited again to compose myself from the sadness, anger and disgust that had overwhelmed me before continuing through the rest of the building. In the film we had seen earlier there had been footage of locals seeing into these rooms after the liberation and the reality of what they suspected becoming reality looked almost unbearable.
Steven & I talked about how anyone could live with themselves after being part of that but on reflection the reign of terror that Hitler had instigated was so thorough and pervasive that anyone not being “on side” would soon become one of those inside a concentration camp.
Over 41,000 people were murdered in Dachau and that’s just the documented number, apparently thousands more Russians were shot who weren’t on the records.
Steven asked me why I wanted to go there before we went, and my answer was morbid fascination of wanting to see the reality of it. Now I’ve been I realise I wanted to show my respect to both the thousands that survived as well as those that didn’t and it horrifies me that there are still people capable of such atrocities even now.
Lest we forget.