While I was in Munich, I took a day trip to Dachau concentration camp, which was one of the longest running camps in Nazi Germany. Initially built for political prisoners, it eventually imprisoned Jewish, homosexual, Sinti/Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other people persecuted by the Nazis. Following the war, the camp was used to hold SS soldiers awaiting trial for crimes against humanity.
This blog post will be picture-free, because I didn’t feel it was appropriate to take photos in such a place. There are many photos online if you wish to look them up to get a sense of what I’m talking about. During my trip, the weather was incredibly beautiful on all days…except this day. It felt suitable that there was pouring rain on a day that I visited such a sad place where terrible crimes were committed.
I decided to take a tour, because I figured a tour guide would be able to add to the experience, and I also didn’t really want to go alone, as I felt I would be very overwhelmed and sad. This was the right choice: my tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable and was able to paint a vivid and horrifying picture of life in the camps. He explained how dumb luck was often what you needed to stay alive – simply being in the right place at the right time. As we walked through the area where the barracks once stood, he said that many people died following their showers simply because the walk back to their barrack was too much for their bodies to bear.
My tour guide took the group around for about 90 minutes before he gave us an hour of time to wander on our own. Until this point I’d managed to remain composed, though overwhelmed. I wandered through the crematorium and the gas chamber, where I encountered a group of German school children – they were about 15-years-old. All German children have to visit a concentration camp as part of their education, and today happened to be that trip for these young people. As I stood there reading the information on the wall, two of the students near me began sobbing and it became too much for me, so I left and walked around the building and burst into tears myself.
There are no words to describe being in the camp. As soon as you enter, everything becomes heavy, and it feels very sad. There’s a sort of emptiness and an unsettling quiet to the area, as if the world knows that terrible things happened here. I highly recommend you visit a camp if you get a chance to do so, because as citizens of the world, I think we have a responsibility to learn about history. Dachau is a stark reminder of the crimes of a terrible regime. I’ve spent years studying World War II, and the Holocaust in particular, but visiting this place made it more real than books or photographs ever could.
One important note is that there are tended grave sites behind the crematorium/gas chamber. These spots mark where the ashes of the murdered were discarded, as well as the execution site. It was very moving visiting these spots, so be sure to do so if you visit. They’re a bit out of the way and hidden, but worth the slight effort it takes to find them.