Eric's Germany Journal, Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial

Tuesday, September 9, 2003

I took a tour offered by The Original Munich Walks, which is also Radius Tours & Bikes. The tour was the best I have had in Europe—detailed and neither dry nor dramatized. Although we spent three hours at the camp, it was not enough. We did not have time to enter the religious monuments, and there was only time to run through the museum. Lonely Planet recommended buying the book that describes all the museum exhibits, so I did.

I recommend the tour, but I also recommend you go prepared to make your own way back, so that you can stay as long as you like. (Going back is easy once you have seen how to get there, and you can buy the necessary two-zone transit ticket in advance.) Radius has an office at the Hauptbahnhof. Take food and water and walking shoes.

Some documentary and dramatic films about the Holocaust do a good job of conveying the horror and emotion, and books and written records do the best job of recording events and causes and movements. Seeing a camp did not have for me the emotional power of a movie or even of written descriptions of some of the events. The camps now serve as anchors, tying the emotions in films and knowledge in books to reality. Dachau Concentration Camp was made a memorial at the insistence of former prisoners.

Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial

The camp at Dachau was a concentration camp and not an extermination camp. At least 30,000 people died at Dachau, through starvation, disease, exposure, forced labor, and execution in numbers that were small relative to extermination camps. At extermination camps, people were killed en masse. A gas chamber was built at Dachau but was not used for mass killing. There is some controversy about whether it was used at all.

Dachau Concentration Camp was the first camp and the model for the rest. It was built near Dachau as a warning to the liberal artist community there.

I am able to relate only a tiny part of what there is to be learned from Dachau. Here is more information about the camp, events there, and the designs and meanings of the memorials at the site.

Camp

Heavy metal gate with the words ARBEIT MACHT FREI Grass, trench, barbed wire, fence Barbed wire, electric fence, gravel corridor, wall
Gate. Arbeit macht frei means "Work makes you free." Trench. The original trench did not end as this reconstruction does. The bottom was marshy. Fence. The fence was electrified. The barbed wire on the ground is a lot nastier than it appears in the picture. Dogs were in the corridor between the fence and the wall.
Large gravel yard Long road down length of camp Prison cells
Yard. Prisoners had to stand for roll call in the cold in flimsy clothing an hour each day, more on occasion. Road. Perspective foreshortens the camp road. It was originally lined with dozens of barracks. Cells for special prisoners. Favored prisoners got these better accommodations.

Barracks

Three levels of eight wooden bunks with partitions between the bunks Adjacent bunks without partitions Single large box frame for many prisoners to sleep in
First-stage bunks. In the first years of the camp, each prisoner had a separate bunk with a straw mattress. Second-stage bunks. Later, bunks were not separate. Third-stage bunks. At the end, prisoners were jammed together.
Wooden lockers Wooden tables Communal sinks
Lockers. Tables. Sinks.

Crematoria

Crematorium with two chambers Crematorium with four chambers View into a crematorium chamber
First crematorium. Second crematorium. There were four chambers. One is offscreen. Crematorium chamber.

Gas Chamber

Exterior of the gas chamber building Empty room where prisoners were told to disrobe in preparation for showering
Exterior. The chutes were for the insertion of poison. Anteroom for disrobing.
Empty room with opening for poison Empty room
Gas chamber. Storage space for bodies.

Memorials

Graves

Grave with Jewish marker Grave marker saying "Grave of Thousands Unknown" Gravel path through trees with more grave markers visible
Grave. Ashes found after camp liberation were buried here. Grave marker. "Grave of Thousands Unknown." Path. This path leads to more graves.

Memorial of the International Prisoners Committee

Former prisoners selected this memorial. The sculpture is by former prisoner Nandor Glid. The memorial has several components and is too large to be shown in one photograph.

Descending crooked stone path between gravel areas Three chain links as tall as a person decorated with overlapping colored triangles Huge metal sculpture of emaciated humans thrown onto a barbed-wire electric fence
Path. The path starts straight (outside of picture) and becomes crooked, as the camp started lawfully and became unlawful. Links. Prisoners had to wear colored triangles indicating the cause of their imprisonment. These triangles are linked to show prisoners' solidarity. Some emaciated prisoners committed suicide on the fence.

Parts of the memorial not shown are grassy areas representing the camp border or gravel areas representing the yard.

Religious Memorials

Like the memorial of the International Prisoners Committee, the religious memorials are gargantuan.

Russian Orthodox Chapel Jewish Memorial Protestant Church of Reconciliation
Russian Orthodox Chapel. Jewish Memorial. Protestant Church of Reconciliation.
Part of the Catholic memorial Catholic "Todesangst Christi Kapelle"
Part of the Catholic memorial. Catholic "Todesangst Christi Kapelle."

Other Memorials

Wall with huge plaque Square tomb in front of a wall marked "Never Again" in five languages Military students entering barracks
Memorial wall. "May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933-1945 because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defence of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow men." Never Again. Ashes of the unknown concentration camp prisoner. Military. All of Dachau Concentration Camp is now a memorial. Learning about this history is a part of German military training.

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Copyright 2003 by Eric Postpischil.