Yesterday, Chelsea, Devin and I visited the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site outside of Munich. The emotions flooded through me, too many to contain them in clear threads of thought, too powerful to digest while experiencing the visit.
The above picture [click to enlarge] shows the main building, where administration and intake processes took place.
Above you see the area of the barracks. Each rectangle represents the footprint of one of the buildings. At the very distant end you can see one of the buildings remaining standing. There are two rows of such barracks, comprising in total 32. Each was meant to house 200 prisoners, but toward the end of the regime, there were over 2,000 in each, terribly overcrowding the facilities.
There is a wealth of information in the museum portion of the camp, which is now located in the administration building. As a visitor, you walk through the same forbidding halls and rooms that the prisoners were corralled through during the intake process, room after room, display after display of atrocities on unimaginable proportion. I could have spent a full day just reading the displays, but it occurred to me that rather than standing there and fighting for space with hordes of school children, I could buy a book and read up on the details in much more comfortable and receptive surroundings.
Nothing, however, can substitute standing in the very rooms that were anterooms to gas chambers, disguised as showers, interrogation rooms, solitary confinement cells, dormitories with beds stacked up like rabbit cages, always inside the same walls where the thousands of prisoners actually stood some 70 years ago. The ghosts of those days are thick in the air, haunting every visitor, so long after, and really, so short after.
The most chilling and almost crushing moment came when I stood outside the crematorium. I had just toured it and seen the furnaces. Outside there was a poster photograph showing heaps of naked corpses, piled up like random logs of wood, as if dropped by a large pitchfork, along a brick wall with windows and a door showing behind. Suddenly I realized that this picture might be taken from the very spot where I was standing. I took a look at the photograph for patterns of bricks with black and white stains on them and I was able to match up the window behind the corpses on the photograph with one of the windows of the building in front of me. With almost overwhelming sorrow I stood exactly on the spot that once supported this pile of humans, one pile of probably thousands of humans over a period of years, dumped there carelessly to eventually be incinerated. The picture was taken in 1945, a mere 11 years before I was born and a mere 65 years before now.
I still cannot imagine how a regime can induce the kind of sadism, brutality and criminality in its own soldiers and people so they inflict this pain, torture, starvation and eventual death and abominable treatment of corpses after death to its own countrymen, whose only crime it was that they had different ideologies, had different heritage, and did not agree with the regime and its leadership.
A trip to a concentration camp should be mandatory for every politician in every country of the world. Humanity has to overcome this type of insanity.
3 thoughts on “Visiting Dachau Concentration Camp”
You write with such clarity; that I feel as though I was also there at Dachau. My heart aches for the pain these people have endured; and the fear that randomly…. who’s next. Your note that “Humanity has to overcome this type of insanity” makes me wonder what in the world is wrong with us that it happened in the first place…. and continues in various forms.
Thanks for the kind words. It was my intent to make sure the message of pain, injustice and pure brutal sadism going on in the world, then, and in many places of the world right now, is going out.
It seems to me that the persistence of selective amnesia is mankind’s curse. Whoever said Never again may have meant it but without the will to ensure never again, I fear we as a race (all of us) will end up seeing endless iterations.