Our drive to Munich was rainy and gloomy, which was actually fitting for where we were headed. Our destination that day was the Dachau concentration camp just outside the city.
I’ve always wanted to see a concentration camp, but it’s not the type of visit you can really get excited for. Nonetheless, I was looking forward to seeing it. Not in a YAY-we’re-going-to-Disneyland way, but the Holocaust is part of our history—part of my personal history—and I really wanted to see a concentration camp with my own eyes.
I’m not getting into the history or politics behind the Holocaust, but what I will say is that Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp opened in Germany—it opened 51 days after Hitler took power, in 1933. Along with being the first camp, it was the model for all other concentration camps that came later. More than 200,000 people were imprisoned here from all over Europe and more than 41,000 were murdered. American troops liberated the suriviors on April 29, 1945. (source)
I took a lot of photos, so this post is going to be heavy with pictures. I’ll make little inputs here and there, but what’s left of Dachau is quite literally very bleak and empty, which is how I edited the pictures—the majority are in black and white. There were signs up with lengthy explanations for what everything was, but mostly it was just eerie, humbling, and terribly sad to walk where such destruction happened.
None of the photos below are necessarily graphic, however they represent horrible times and may be disturbing, so consider this your warning.
“Work makes you free.” This was the first thing prisoners saw as they entered the gates into Dachadu.
This vast, open space was used for herding the prisonors together. Imagine that huge area filled with people squished together like sardines. The building on the left is a replica of where they lived; I’ll show you inside in just a minute.
Several monuments and memorials have been erected over the years:
“May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933-1945, because they resisted Nazism, help to unite the living for the defense of peace and freedom, and in respect for their fellow men.”
“Ashes of the unknown concentration camp prisoners,” written in four different languages.
Any escape attempts happened here. They had to go through the ditch, over a nest of barbed wire, over an electric fence and then over a wall. Guards were instructed to shoot the second a prisoner entered the area. Some prisoners entered the area on purpose in order to put an end to their suffering.
The following is a replica of the prisoners’ sleeping quarters:
There were dozens of bunkers just like this one. They’re all gone now, and what’s left is just more open space. This road is/was called “Camp Road.”
A Christian and Jewish place of worship have been set up at one end of the camp. There is also a memorial bell that rings once a day for a moment of silence and remembrance.
To get to the crematorium you essentially have to walk outside the barbed wire area and into a different section all together. Before we went to the crematorium we walked around another memorial garden area. This next section of the camp took me by surprise, and I don’t know why. The place was so serene and pretty that it made me sick to my stomach when I read what happened exactly where I was standing.
“Grave of thousands unknown”
Top right: “Ash grave.” Bottom right: “Ashes were stored here.”
“Pistol range for execution.”
Left: “Grave of many thousands unknown.” Right: “Execution range with blood ditch.”
Our final stop at Dachau was the crematorium.
“The large crematorium was erected between May 1942 and April 1943. It was to serve both as a killing facility and to remove the dead. But the gas chamber in the middle of the building was not used for mass murder. Survivors have testified that the SS did, however, murder individual prisoners and small groups here using poison gas.”
There is still controversy about what happened here. I took photos of all the different signs within the building, so I’ll copy what they said. Unfortunately (or fortunately, maybe), I can’t find the sign with the number of people who were cremated here, but I think it was easily in the thousands.
Again, the photos and descriptions below may be disturbing.
Prisoners first entered a “waiting room” where “victims were to be informed on using the supposed “showers.”
Then they went into a “disrobing room.” “This is where the victims were to leave their clothes before entering the gas chamber disguised as ‘showers.’ Their clothing was to be brought to the disinfecting chambers before the next group could enter the room.”
They were then moved into the gas chamber. “This was the center of potential mass murder. The room was disguised as ‘showers’ and equipped with fake shower spouts to mislead the victims and prevent them from refusing to enter the room. During a period of 15 to 20 minutes, up to 150 people at a time could be suffocated to death using prussic acid poison gas.”
“Death Chamber 1.” “This is where the dead were to be brought before they were cremated.”
“Incinerator room.” “Each of the four furnaces could cremate two to three corpses at once. The ovens were connected to the chimney by an underground canal.”
“The old crematorium.” (Located separately from the place above.) This crematorium was built in the summer of 1940, after the foreign prisoners arrived and the mortality rate greatly increased. A year later it was already working beyond capacity. The crematorium was in operation until about April 1943. During this period approximately 11,000 prisoners were cremated here.”
Whew. Are you still with me? Our time there was pretty intense and somber, as I’m sure you can imagine. One day I would like to visit Auschwitz, but I don’t know if that will happen while we’re in Europe this time. I was hesitant to write this post since it’s pretty much the most depressing thing I think someone can write about and show, but even though it happened decades ago, I think it’s absolutely worth remembering.
The next part of our trip was much less grim. So much so that it included singing! I hope you all have a good day!
I visited a concentration camp back in 2008 and my feelings while being there were a match for yours, it was the most emotional place I have ever been.
Thank you for sharing your journey. It is quite humbling and sad.
I visited Dachau on the way to Munich in 2001. It was an experience like no other.
When I was a child, the Holocaust seemed like ancient history. It belonged to the realm of Things that Happened Before I Was Born. The older I get, though, the more horrified I become that this happened not that long ago, in a place thought of as modern, civilized, and enlightened.
Thank you for taking this difficult, uncomfortable trip and sharing your reactions with us. Only in remembering, in feeling some echo of the unspeakable horror of the Shoah, can we help make sure that it never happens again.
Thank you for sharing. I think the Holocaust is important to remember so that it does not happen again. I feel like visiting these places is good to memorialize those who lost their lives there. I want to see these concentration camps for myself but not sure if I can get over there… so I'm determined to go to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. if that's the best I can do.
And also on this point, while in Japan I went to Hiroshima. I really wanted to see where the atomic bomb was dropped but when you get there it is very somber. It's not like you should be smiling in front of the Atomic Dome, really. Great memorial though. Amazing and emotional museum.
It is just important to remember these things.
Wonderful post. Thank you for sharing.
Beautiful, haunting photos.
Wow….my grandfather told me stories of this place. He was a soldier and had visited many of the camps. Thank you for the photos they are haunting and beautiful.
Thank you for sharing. The pictures are unreal of what happened there.
So glad you shared this – my grandfather was a Holocaust survivor (he was in Auschwitz) and it's definitely on my list to go. It makes me sad that there are people out there that doubt the significance of all that happened.
Thanks for sharing Jess. It is an incredibly heart wrenching experience I am sure, but as someone who has never been, it was very educational to see your photos.
Thank you for sharing your experience here. I agree with others that we need to remember The Holocaust so something like this never happens again. I have been to the Holocaust museum in DC and that in itself is a very sobering experience. I am getting chills just looking at your photos and can't even imagine what it must have felt like to be there.
Thank you for sharing. I agree with Chantal – the photos are both beautiful and haunting. I'm a history nut, so I've always wanted to visit Dachau or Aushwitz. I can't imagine what it would feel like to step foot in a concentration camp decades later, knowing exactly what happened there. Kinda gives me chills.
How brave of you to share this experience with us. I can't imagine the emotions felt, but you have expressed them in such a way as to bring tears to my eyes! I have always wanted to experience the sacred ground where thousands of lives were taken- I feel it is such an important lesson!
Thank you for sharing your experience. We are Jewish (not by religion, but by heritage) and the picture of the skeletal barbed wire statue is what struck me the most. It is exactly like one at Yod Vashem (the Holocaust Museum in Israel). Just seeing your picture brought back my experience with the Museum. The thing I will never forget is the children's section of the museum. It's a separate, circular building. You enter a dark room with nothing but candles in the center and mirrors all around. You walk in a circle and hear the names and ages of the murdered children in children's voices and multiple languages. It's haunting…which I guess is exactly what it's supposed to be.
Wow, this was a beautiful post. Well-written and the pictures were haunting, powerful & beautiful. Thank you for sharing. It is important that we all keep visiting & sharing & learning.
Thank you for sharing. It looks quite similar to Auschwitz, which I visited last year. It had long been a dream of mine to go there, and see it with my own eyes. I never did share my photos with anyone. You did a beautiful job of writing this post, and sharing your experience and photos with us.
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I know what you mean about wanting to visit but not really, at the same time. I think it is important for people to realize what went on there. This post was approached just right, in my opinion and I am glad you shared your experience. Reading about the crematorium and seeing the pictures was definitely hard.
These pictures brought back the somber memories I have of visiting Dachau a few years back. Such a moving experience. Thanks for sharing!