Quote

“I'd rather regret the things that I have done than the things that I have not.”
― Lucille Ball

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Dachau


For many years I wanted to visit a former concentration camp of WWII, but I never had/made time to do so. A few years ago I worked on a project in Munich and discovered that Dachau - one of the better known concentration camps from my history books - was quite close and had a rail connection from Munich. However, I never took a day off to visit the site.

Since I am retired I really do things I didn't do before and as I was close (Nurnburg), I decided to go this time. My son - who I was visiting -  was interested as well to see and experience it. I was happyly surprised about his interest in this part of recent history.



It is a 1.5 hours drive from Nurnburg, the weather was good (clear and sunny morning, but rain in the afternoon fore-casted). We arrived around 11.00 am and the parking place was less than 50% used.

We were surprised to see that around the place the German life just had continued and people have their houses built there with the camp in the back yard. I would not be able ever to live there and to be confronted with it every minute of the day.

When you walk from the parking place to the camp / museum and have passed the little bookstore you suddenly see the entrance building and the remainders of the train platform where the prisoners arrived.

The camp was established already in the mid 30's as a political prisoner camp and it became finally a kind of model camp where all kind of specific things were invented and tested, from the layout of the camp, the organisation to the gas chambers and crematoria.

Many other camps that were established in WWII by the Nazi's were based on what was developed in Dachau. When we approached the entrance gate I got chills to my spine and a scary feeling, because so many people who entered this camp never returned and we will visit it for only a few hours and will then return to our daily life.

I think the most photographed subject is the entrance gate with the famous German phrase: "ARBEIT MACHT FREI" or in English: "Working gives you Freedom". Obviously very ambiguous since we know that most prisoners have never experienced freedom again.

What I remember from the pictures of Auschwitz concentration camp is that the same text was located above the gate (also copied from Dachau?). Here it is part of the gate. Therefore it was a bit "funny" as many wanted to close the gate for taking the picture and others wanted to open it as to enter the camp.

If you passed the gate you see how big the camp was. I shivered again. On the right are the administrative and technical buildings in a U-shape. It contains now the museum of the camp.
On the left is the area with the barracks. There were two rows in parallel with 17 barracks each, so in total the camp had 34 barracks. Between the two rows was a kind of lane and at the other side of each row was a lane as well between the barracks and the fences. The whole camp was a rectangle, with in total 6 watch towers.



Because all the barracks - except no. 1 and 2 - were removed,  you had a pretty good overview of the camp from all positions within the walls. The foundations of the barracks are still there.

In the 2 remaining barracks different ways of living are portrait-ed from the early times to the last years before the end of the war. It is unbelievable how people have lived and some even survived if you know that the barracks were designed for a few hundred prisoners, but at the end of the war each barrack was a living for a few thousand prisoners.

Even more horrifying was the visit of the old and new crematorium and the gas chambers, just outside the camp. The new crematorium was the blue print for other camps as well.

It looks quite clean now and the air is fresh, but that time 65 years ago this must have been one of the dirtiest places on earth.

If you are around you should visit this camp as it gives a good overview of what a concentration camp really was, or visit the web site of the Dachau KZ foundation.

Let's hope and pray that below memorial stone will be remembered as long as human beings will live on this planet.


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