Photo Courtesy of ushmm.org
Today, I visited the Dachau concentration camp. It was an experience I’ll never forget.
I’m not Jewish, and I haven’t studied much of the history of the Holocaust. I have visited the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam, I’ve been to the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, and yes, I’ve watched Schindler’s List. That’s the extent of my physical experience with the Holocaust. Some of you know that I’ve been in Munich for the past couple of days. Driving around, I found signs pointing toward the town of Dachau. It didn’t occur to me that this place was so close by. I knew I had to go see it.
Established in March 1933, the Dachau concentration camp was the first regular concentration camp established by the Nazis. Today, it is a museum, an archive, a library and most of all, a place of remembrance.
It is hard to describe what I felt as I walked up to this place. Dachau is surrounded by a suburb where people live in two story apartment buildings. When they look outside their kitchen window, they can see over the wall. Some look out and see this.
It’s just one of the half a dozen towers where Nazi SS were posted, waiting for camp prisoners to cross a line near the wall. When they did, they were immediately shot.
As I walked into Dachau, I was greeted with these words.
“Work Makes One Free”. You might recognize this motto as the same one posted at the main gate of Auschwitz.
Dachau is huge. So much bigger than I had imagined (see the map here). It could easily take a couple of hours to walk around and see everything. I focused on two places. The Crematorium and the maintenance building.
On my way to the Crematorium building, I couldn’t help but think about all of the people who lived here, worked here, suffered here and died here.
Walking just outside the camp and through a gate, I came upon this building. It looks rather plain actually, but it was nothing ordinary at all. It was here that tens of thousands of people died.
There is only one picture showing the Dachau Crematorium in operation. It was taken illegally by a prisoner, but it survived and is now the single representation of the horrors that occurred here.
There are two rooms inside this building that are the most difficult to visit in the entire camp. The first is the gas chamber.
And the second place is the room containing the ovens.
No one talks much in here. There really isn’t a whole lot to say. It’s mostly a place to reflect. A place to remember. A place which must never exist again.
In the back of the Crematorium, you’ll find this memorial. It was here where the ashes of thousands of those killed at Dachau were dumped by the Nazi SS.
As I mentioned earlier, the Dachau concentration camp covers a very large area. As I walked away from the Crematorium building, I took in this view of the camp road, and the foundations of the 30 bunk houses. These were built to house 200 prisoners, but at the time of the liberation of Dachau, they each held over 2,000 people.
Dachau is filled with memorial plaques. This one is particularly haunting.
I exited the camp through the same way I came in. Walking through this gate, I thought about all of those who never got the chance to leave this place as I did. Their memory lives here.
I experienced something of the Holocaust today that no book could describe, no pictures convey, and nothing a Hollywood movie could present. Dachau is a piece of history, a living memorial to the people who died there, but also to the survivors who struggled and suffered, but walked away on their day of liberation.
We must never forget what happened during the Holocaust, and we must take whatever measures necessary to ensure it never happens again. I know one thing. I’ll never forget what I saw today. Dachau won’t let me.