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!