After two days of warm, sunny weather, we woke up Saturday to a cold, drizzly Munich. My dad was so happy for the change in temperature and, while wearing only shorts and a t-shirt, he still managed to break a sweat; of course I, on the other hand, was freezing in pants and a jacket! However, I do have to say the weather changed just in time because a sunny day wouldn’t have felt appropriate for the activity: visiting an old concentration camp.
My dad and I took a tour of Dachau, a concentration camp just barely outside Munich, and I learned a ton of interesting information that I hadn’t known before.
I didn’t realize that many of Naziism’s roots are in Munich; Hitler, after moving from Austria, settled in Munich and launched his original campaign in the beer halls of this city (including Hoffbrauhaus which I visited). Furthermore, the very first concentration camp was established in Dachau, a town only a few kilometers outside of Munich.
Also surprising was the fact that today, every German student is required to visit a concentration camp.
Walking into the camp, the door reads “albeit macht frei”, which is literally translated to work makes free. According to our tour guide, this saying was part of the propaganda spread by Nazi’s to advertise concentration camps. The quote was intended to assuage concerns by implying that if the prisoners were to work hard, they would become better Germans and could rejoin society.
Within the camp there was another prison (essentially a prison within a prison) with numerous tiny cells. Our tour guide explained that people in these cells were often people like George Elser, a man who made one of the assassination attempts against Hitler, that the Nazis wanted to keep alive for various reasons.
A gas chamber was built on the grounds towards the end of Hitler’s hold on power. Although it is unknown the extent to which these chambers were used, my tour guide said that although it is likely they didn’t kill mass amounts of prisoners, they were probably put to use.
Above the door is the phrase “brausebad” which is an old german term for “bath”. To expedite the gassing process and prevent prisoners from attempting to escape, this phrase was placed above the door to the chamber, leading the entering prisoners to believe they were only being bathed.
Seeing this sign above the door was one of the things that hit me the strongest; so many horrible things happened within these camps, but for whatever reason, this trickery upsets me on a whole other level.
Connected to the gas chamber is the crematorium.
Because thousands of people went missing over this time period and many of the bodies and ashes from the Dachau camp are unidentified, this is “the grave of many thousands unknown”.
This memorial to the suffering that occurred within the camp stands outside the building where prisoners were admitted into the camp and where they were tortured.
I wouldn’t describe visiting Dachau as a fun experience, but it was so moving and interesting. Our tour guide did a great job explaining that a lot of this was done without majority approval (because I have to say I was feeling pretty angry with the German people after hearing about torture tactics etc) and giving the details that really painted a picture of what happened.