Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dachau Memorial Site

This is not going to be a happy post. There is no way to explain what it felt like to be there and walk where people died and were buried as if they were subhuman. I'll try to keep it from being too detailed and graphic, but we did go inside the torture bunker, along with a gas chamber and crematoriums. I'm not trying to upset people, but I've been impacted by this, and I think everyone should educate themselves.

Not going to lie, the second thing I knew I wanted to do when we decided on Munich was visit Dachau. One of my favorite (weird word choice, but so true) classes at OU was my class on the Holocaust. We learned about the treatment of Jews in Europe before the 20th century, studied Hitler's rise to power and legislation, the planning of the Holocaust, and then discussed how Jews, Germany and the world are dealing with, and learning from, it. It was one of the hardest classes I took, but I got to learn so much about human nature. After that class, I really wanted to visit, and learn, about a former camp.

Walking to "Welcome Square"

Godforsaken. Those are replicas of barracks. We didn't go to them.
We did a guided tour, which was the best decision we made that week. Our tour guide is working on her Master's degree related to educating visitors about the camp and the atrocities that happened there, so she was incredibly passionate about it all. The first thing she asked us was why we were there and what we wanted to get from it. Which is a really good question...why was I there? For me, I went there to honor those who suffered and died there, to educate myself about what intolerance and hate can do, and so that I can teach the next generation about it.
Entrance to the Torture Bunker. See how long it is? It's just as long on the other side. 

The torture bunker is on the right, entrance building on the left.
Dachau is officially called a memorial site, or a former concentration camp. It was the first camp Hitler opened, and since it was liberated in 1945, it was open for the entirety of the Third Reich. I didn't know that 3/4 of the camp was surrounded by a Nazi training school for those men who would eventually work in other camps. Apparently the "Dachau method" was considered the best, and men were sent there to learn how to physically, and mentally, break people.
Guard Tower

If you tried to escape, you'd have to make it in and out of the ditch, across the grass without being shot,
through the electric fence and barbed wire, and then through a river. And in most places,
you'd end up in a Nazi training camp
When Dachau opened, it had mostly political prisoners. The barracks were made to hold 100 people originally (the camp was originally supposed to hold around 5000 people), but when it was liberated, people were sleeping 6-7 people per bunk, and there were 32,000. Walking into the camp and viewing Roll Call Square, it is so incredibly huge, empty and lifeless. I can't imagine 32,000 prisoners there.

It was interesting to walk through the museum and have our guide give us more information about things there. I had never known about how the Nazis arranged everything to present themselves as humans and high above the prisoners (inhuman). The prison buildings are one story, while the Nazi buildings and watchtowers are 2 or more. Even the pictures the Nazis took are above eye level. She stopped us in front of a picture of men waiting to be processed into the camp, which was placed next to a picture of prisoners during roll call. The prisoners have no individuality left, and cannot stand with their hands in their pockets, or look the Nazis in the eye, while the men waiting to go in still have their normal clothes and are standing however they want. The picture of the prisoners is from above, while the one of the men waiting is from eye level.
Beams used to be here. They used to hang prisoners from them and torture them.

Where you'd shower when you came into the camp.
Walking through the torture bunker was so mournful. Once you walk in the door, there are hallways to your left and right, and they seem to go on forever. All you can see are doors into cells. Looking into the tiny rooms, I can't imagine being left there for a day, let alone totured over and over for months. Apparently the Nazis would leave a rusty knife with the prisoners and tell them they could decide when to end it. What would you have done?

Blurry, but the door to a cell.
Inside a cell

At the end of the tour, we walked over to the crematorium and gas chamber. The chamber at Dachau wasn't used for mass killings like the ones at Auschwitz, but it was used to kill small groups, which is still disgusting. Walking in, the room felt completely different. It was dark in many of the small rooms already, but it was somehow worse then any other room. Walking out into the crematorium and looking at the ovens, some stil with the stretchers pulled out, was so surreal. How could people willingly do this?

Crematorium/gas chambers. The Nazis wanted it to look "homey". That's disgusting.

"Showers" and the entrance to the gas chamber. This makes me sick.
Disturbing on so many levels. That hole on the bright wall is where the Krylon B was put from the outside.
Where the poison gas went.

I can't imagine having to work these when the camps were functional.

So sad.
As we were leaving the camp, the Catholic memorial's bell started tollling. It rings at the hour Christ is supposed to have died, and it was the only sound we could hear in the camp as we walked past the spots where all the barracks used to be. It was so desolate and still, and hearing only a bell toll seemed so fitting. In memory of those who lived, died and survived there, I want to educate the next generation about what hate can do. This should not happen again, but it still is, in different forms, with different names. We need to be the ones who make it stop everywhere. I'll be teaching my students to respect the lives of all they meet, regardless of similarities and differences, in the hopes that I'll teach them that no one is more important than another, and that all life is sacred.

I don't remember what this says, but it has a former prisoner on it. How can you tell?

The memorial. Never Again.

Every bed with stones was a foundation for a barrack. This is only a part of one side

Catholic and Jewish memorials. That's the bell we heard.

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