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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site


 

As festive as Oktoberfest is, Dachau was as powerfully sobering. Going to visit Dachau, the site of the first of Germany's Nazi concentration camps, was something I've long wanted to do because I felt it was something I should do. It is important to remember and to realize that, yes, it did happen, and yes, if we do not protect our individual liberties and remain strong, this is something that humans have the capacity to once again inflict.


The "Jourhaus" --SS offices and gatehouse entering the concentration camp


Entering the main gate. The inscription reads "Work makes you free."
I came to Dachau expecting that it would "not be that bad." After all, it was not one of the concentration camps used for mass extermination.

I was wrong.

What I learned there was in some ways worse. While people were not marched unwillingly into gas chambers, over 30,000 people died there. Some, from the intolerable conditions, others from being hung, or shot, and yes, some died in the gas chamber there. Some were worked to death, digging ditches, refilling them, and digging them again. Some died from torturous medical experiments conducted upon them, such as high altitude simulations and low temperature experiments. Most died from disease outbreaks and malnutrition
While a great number of Jews were sent there, I was surprised that many more were political prisoners, including Christian clergy. Thousands of Catholic priests and bishops were imprisoned there.



Inside the Bunker

Firing Squad wall
The grounds where thousands would gather each day for roll call
Be prepared to spend half a day at Dachau. The exhibition is incredible, taking you through the camp through the eyes of the prisoners who lived there as well as those who liberated the camp. My favorite exhibition was on temporary display -- drawings of Vlasto Kopàč, who was a prisoner who surreptitiously drew life in the camp.

The most disturbing part of the visit was seeing the crematorium. There are actually two -- the "new crematorium" was built because the old one could not handle the thousands and thousands of bodies that needed disposal. The crematorium was also used as a place to hang prisoners from the rafters. There was also a galleys just outside the crematorium. In a room adjacent to the picture below was the gas chamber. I felt absolutely sick to the stomach walking through this room to the gas chamber. Even more sickening were the pictures there of bodies piled up, waiting to be burned, or those of prisoners pushing bodies into the very ovens we were standing beside.

The "new" crematorium

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