When I realized we would be stopping in Munich, Germany as part of the route I had mapped out during our Europe train adventure, Dachau popped up as a possible place to book a tour. Although I knew it wouldn’t be “fun” I knew it would be important – for both my 14 year old and myself. It would be a rare opportunity to see a place that had for a long time seemed so far away and surreal. The holocaust was something I had watched in documentaries and saw recreated in movies but being at the scene of the crime so to speak, would be something altogether more frightening. And it was.
I booked a tour with Sandeman’s and I would highly recommend them. Our tour guide was knowledgeable and sweet and likeable. Here are some photos and some of the annedotes I remember from the tour.
Dachau was the first concentration camp to open, and was the model from which others were established. This is the front gate by which prisoners entered upon arrival, and through which guests now arrive to the memorial site. This view is from inside the concentration camp. The lettering at the top of the door translated to English reads, “Work Makes You Free.”
This is the roll-call area, where prisoners were forced to stand for hours, twice daily and in all sorts of extreme weather conditions, for the purpose of being accounted for. As I walked across the gravel I thought of those who had stood there before me – ordinary people just like me.
Here are the foundations from which stood the bunkers. I took photos of the inside of a reconstructed bunker, but can’t find them in my camera, which is strange. Each bunk of the first phase of construction (there were a few, each with slight modifications from the previous) had a shelf for each prisoner, next to their bed. It was a form of psychological torture, as everything had been stripped from them and they didn’t have anything to place on the shelf. It was a daily reminder that they had nothing.
There are various sculptures throughout the memorial site, to honour the dead and remind the living of the past. This is a sculpture that shows coloured triangles attached to a chain and represents the the categories of “recognized” persecuted groups, including those persecuted for political, racial or religious reasons. More information on this sculpture can be found here.
This sculpture was created by Nandor Glid and represents prisoners who in acts of desperation, committed suicide by jumping into the barbed wire fence surrounding the camp. You can learn more about this sculpture here.
This building houses the great horrors we have heard about the holocaust – the gas chamber and crematorium. There were 32,000 document deaths between 1933 and 1945, with many more undocumented.
The crematorium ovens.
This final sculpture, the “Unknown Inmate,” was created by Fritz Koelle in 1950. We know he is a prisoner because he looks malnourished and gaunt. But we also know he is free because he is clothed and wearing shoes, his posture is relaxed and he is looking up. There are other accounts of the meaning behind this sculpture – you can search online to read more. The inscription translated to English reads, “To honor the dead, to warn the living.”
Travel allows us a window into the magnificent world in which we live. There are so many beautiful places to see and experience, but there are also places like Dachau – ugly, haunting and sad. I’ve thought a lot about Dachau since I’ve returned home, and it has made me wonder if we, as humans, have really learned anything from the holocaust. Like matter, I wonder if evil never really is eradicated but instead recycles itself into other forms with different names. Maybe today it is not the Nazi’s persecuting Jews, gays, and other groups, but many of us are still killing others due to intolerance of perceived differences between us. When will we learn that we are all connected, that we are all the same?
Again: “To honor the dead, to warn the living.”