Dachau Concentration Camp
What to Expect When Visiting a Concentration Camp
I thought a lot about what it would be like to visit a concentration camp. In the most respectful way possible, I wanted to visit one. I wanted to see what an actual concentration camp would look like. Where so much history took place. But I also prepared myself because I knew it would be hard and emotional. I had waited for ages to finally visit a concentration camp, watching as many documentaries as I could throughout the years and cried over stories such as, Anne Frank’s diary. Initial entry to the camp is free, but to get the audio listening guide cost 3 euro. They have a listening device you can carry around the camp to listen to different monuments. If this is your first visit to Dachau, a concentration camp, or even if you think you know everything about the Holocaust, I strongly suggest you to go with a guide, or “educator”. A guided tour takes about 2.5 hours throughout the memorial site.
Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp in Germany. It's located about 10 miles outside of Munich and was built to force labor and imprison Jewish, German, and Austrian criminals. The camp was liberated by U.S. forces in May of 1945. Of the 200,000+ prisoners at Dachau, 45,000 were murdered here. Families were ripped apart, screaming children were torn from their mother’s arms. With a wave of his hand, an SS officer would decide a person’s fate: an instant agonizing death or the slow torture of the labour camps. Visitors follow the "path of the prisoner", walking the same way prisoners were forced to walk after their arrival in the camp. I was able to see the gas chambers, the shooting range, the courtyard, the bunks and so much more. The gas chambers were used to gas hundreds of prisoners to death. As a prisoner, if you were called, you would be asked to take a shower. Believing that you would get a nice, warm shower, you would instead die. The ‘shower’ turned out to be a gas chamber where hundreds of prisoners would be locked in and a poisonous gas would seep in. The reality of their horror struck me as I stood in the gas chamber. It must have been a nightmare to be naked in a packed room, vulnerable and afraid. Waiting. Then all of a sudden you are gasping for air, and people are screaming, clawing at the walls. It took up to 15 minutes for a person to die.
One set of barracks remain at the camp that visitor’s are allowed and encouraged to walk through. Here you will learn about the tight quarters prisoners lived in and their highly strict daily routines that if not done 100% perfectly led to extreme punishment. Basically, just another instance when they were set up for failure. Dachau has a main memorial center, which is the camp’s former maintenance building. Here you can learn all the history of the camp and of the building itself. Each room of the building tells the story of itself through photos, videos, and the prisoners’ personal effects.
There was another building full of rooms the size of jail cells.This building was for "special prisoners". "Special prisoners" didn't have to work, instead they were locked into a dark room and were tortured to death. Some things that qualify a person to be a "special prisoner" would be trying to assassinate Hitler or openly speaking against the Nazis. I was shivering with horror. Everyone was. These are just a few of the horrifying stories I learned about at my visit.
I debated on whether to take pictures here, but I decided I would be respectful about taking pictures. I wanted to remember and never forget what it looked like. I also wanted to show pictures to people who are not able to go visit for themselves. When you enter the camp there is a metal gate and in the middle of that gate are the words "Arbeit Macht Frei" which translates "Work Makes Free." If you think about that, the meaning is so deep. Either the prisoners would work to death and eventually be freed or sometimes the prisoners would literally be set free to leave. There's not much more to say or describe other than I think it is vital that everyone visit a concentration camp at least once in their life. It is so overwhelming to me that humans could watch other humans suffer and think it is completely justified. While the initial part of your visit can be emotional, overall it is an educational experience that shouldn't be missed while in Munich. When leaving the concentration camp, all I could think about is, how blessed I am to be able to leave.
Bunkers of the prisoners