“Arbeit macht frei” (Work makes one free, a common phrase seen at camps). The Dachau Concentration Camp was the first concentration camp, and was initially used as a forced labor camp – where the prisoners would eventually be let free. With the onset of World War II, the camp became extremely over crowded, and the home to thousands of prisoner deaths – due to Nazi control. The camp itself was a model for the many other camps during the time. The camp was fully functional until the US Forces forced their way onto the grounds and liberated all prisoners on April 29th, 1945. After which, the camp was used as a prison for SS officials awaiting trial.
We got up relatively early this morning to get our fill at the hostel’s breakfast. While we had to pay a couple euros for the meal, it was more than worth it. They had a nice spread of breads, meats, cereal, and fruits. I was expecting it to be my only meal until dinner, so I definitely ate until I couldn’t anymore!
The early morning wake up call came so we could go visit Dachau, a 40ish minute train ride outside of Munich. Dachau is home to the first and one of the best preserved concentration camps from World War II. I have done a few projects in school about concentration camps, and I wanted to be able to take the opportunity to experience a camp first hand and pay my respects.
“May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933-1945 because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defense of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow man.”
“No smoking” painted on the wall inside a building that was once a factory.
When we walked through the camps gates, marked with “Arbeit macht frei” (Work makes one free, a common phrase seen at camps), it was a very strange and surreal feeling seeing the prisoners parade ground/barracks. The tour started out with a 22-minute documentary talking about everything from the beginning days of the camp, through the camps liberation by US troops in 1945. Halfway through the documentary, hundreds of images of dead prisoners were shown. I was honestly a little taken back about how unfiltered the documentary was about all the pictures. No one ever wants to see a dead person, but to see the photos of piles of people carted around like they’re just some rocks or trash is gut wrenching.
After the documentary, we walked through the museum. The museum takes you through 13 different sections, each a different ‘phase’ of the Camp – from Hitler’s rise to power, the camp’s first uses, all the way to what prisoners’ lives were like after liberation. It was a lot of information to read and absorb over two hours, but it was extremely well done.
On the right side of the image, you can see an original image of the room, showing how well preserved the camp was. This room was a wash room for prisoners.
A model of the camp during it’s use.
From the museum we walked around the camp, by prisoners’ barracks, memorials, and the crematorium.
The Camp’s main memorial in front of the administration building (as seen in full below).
The memorial in front of the administration building.
Main Camp Road. Prisoners would march down this every morning for roll call to receive their jobs for the day.
Toilets in the Barracks. This one room would be meant for thousands of men, part of the reason for the camps horrid conditions.
Prisoners were forced to sleep on these cramped, wooden bunks.
Each gravel pit used to be home to a prisoners barracks, infirmary, or another camp administration building.
Catholic Mortal Agony of Christ Chapel
From the museum we walked around the camp, by prisoners’ barracks, memorials, and the crematorium. The crematorium was probably the hardest part of the whole tour. Having seen the photos of how it was used and what each room we were standing in was used for… Walking through the “Death Chambers” was far too overpowering for me knowing hundreds of bodies once lay in those rooms waiting to be cremated..
Looking back down Main Camp Road at the Administration Building/Parade Grounds.
Marking the Crematorium with the German phrase “Think about how we died here” in German.
A gas chamber that was thankfully never used for homicidal purposes.
After the tour, we hurried back to Munich to catch a bus back to the airport. Before we knew it, we were back in our apartment in Rome!Tags: Concentration Camp, Dachau, Germany, Monday, munich