September 12, 2010

Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial

Last weekend I visited the Dachau concentration camp memorial. I promised that I would blog about this trip and now I’m finally delivering. Between my busy social life, hanging out with die kinder, and catching up on Dexter season 4 (I love streaming internet video!), I haven’t really been thinking much about blogging. But finally I’m getting around to it.

My trip to Dachau deserves it’s own post (and the zoo, as well, but I’ll do that later) – it’s an incredible historical location.  It was the first official concentration camp built in Germany during World War II and was originally meant for political prisoners. After the Nuremburg Laws and Heinrich Himmler and measures of war, Dachau contained much more than just political prisoners. No one is a stranger to the purpose of a concentration camp. To be honest, all that I knew about Germany before I arrived here had to do with Hitler and World War II, mainly the Holocaust. Seeing Dachau was very surreal. You don’t realize how powerful history can be until you’re staring it in the face.

The memorial site is about 30 or so minutes outside of Munich and you can get there just by taking the S-Bahn. Eric, Catherine, Harry, and I journeyed out to Dachau around 2:30 or so and then had two hours to explore the memorial before it closed at 5. The first thing that you notice is how somber and melancholy every thing and everyone is. Nobody is smiling, no one is really talking. We had a quick lunch at the cafe in the visitor’s center and then journeyed out to the actual site.

DSCN5276 DSCN5283 DSCN5284

Visitors to Dachau have the choice of touring it alone or with an audio guide but we decided to go at it alone. We had Eric there who knows his stuff so he told us a lot about everything that we were seeing, plus every area includes signs written in German and English. I wish that I’d paid more attention or learned more about the history of each area. I think I just wanted to see it all in the short time that we were going to be there so I was rushing through most of it. Eventually I’ll go back for a proper tour but for now all I have is my own interpretation of and reaction to what I saw. And a lot of pictures.

DSCN5286The prisoner’s personal accounts of their time in Dachau were heartbreaking to read.

DSCN5288View of the barracks foundations

At the back of the memorial site, behind and to the left of the barracks, you come to the incinerator building where the soldiers would burn the bodies of prisoners who had died. Also in this building was the gas chamber – where they could murder up to 150 people at one time. This building was horrific – I remember walking into this plain, unadorned, empty room and not really knowing what it was for until I looked up at a sign and read that it was the room where they would keep piles and piles of corpses. I couldn’t stand in that room anymore and I had to step away – it was overwhelming. Even being there it’s hard to imagine what happened in this building but being that much closer to it was so surreal. I can’t believe such horrible things happened to these people.

DSCN5299  The ovens where dead bodies were burned.

DSCN5302The gas chamber where the prisoners were told they would be taking ‘showers.’
This was, by far, the most disturbing and heartbreaking room in the entire site.

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After we visited this building we went to the museum – which is located in the maintenance building that the prisoners built as a part of their labor work in the camp. The museum is incredible and has accounts of everything from the back history of Germany and the Nazi party during World War I up until the end, when the American soldiers liberated the prisoners at Dachau and killed some fifty SS soldiers in the Dachau Massacre. The museum itself is very, very cool. Again, I didn’t retain much of what I was looking at it but I enjoyed browsing through all of the old artifacts and information.

DSCN5318Old film propaganda

DSCN5320Neus Rathaus during the 30’s with a Nazi flag displayed

DSCN5321Memorial to the prisoners who committed suicide by throwing themselves
onto the electric fence that surrounded the camp

Overall, I thought Dachau was amazing. It’s incredible to be able to see this history up close and personal and I am so blessed to be able to visit places like this, to really understand and feel how history unfolded. I really want to go to Dachau again and get a proper tour. I want to really understand the full history of this place. Learning about World War II and Hitler’s reign in Germany was one of the most interesting parts about my history classes when I was in school and I look forward to being able to learn about it from the source – the country where most of it took place. 


ToniGurl said...

I wonder if you check your blog for comments, even so I thought I would reply.

This was incredibly sad to read, even though I've always been interested in the Holocaust and WWII. Some of the pictures are very hard to take in, like the ones where their bodies are so emanciated. I saw the Holcaust Memorial Museum in Washington and it

I get why you had to see it, I'm going to Au Pair in the Netherlands next year and I plan on visiting the concentration camp Auchwitz. I don't need to elaborate about the horrors there, but I knowing the tour is going to be sombering.

Its good that you saw the site no matter how sad it was. If more people are aware, the better. This can never happen again.

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