Day 2: Dachau concentration camp

By Brittney Durbin

It was a consensual agreement between me and my three friends who joined in my adventure to Germany to visit a concentration camp while in country. I’m not really sure who thought of it in the first place, but needless to say we all walked away from the experience with changed perspectives.

A short thirty-minute train ride and quick bus trip later, we arrived at the visitors center. Technically the area is now a memorial, but for explanation purposes I’m going to refer to it as a concentration camp.

Anyway, it is free to visit the grounds, but for only three euros you can participate in a guided tour. I really suggest that if ever given the opportunity, because our guide was fantastic and without her I don’t think I would have taken as much away from the experience.

Gates of Dachau.

Gates of Dachau

The tour began at the front gates of the concentration camp. It is a little hard to see, but above the door it says, “Arbeit Macht Frei,” which translated means, “Work makes you free.” This was because, originally, Dachau served as a working camp, intended to reform political opposition to the Nazi party. However, as the war continued to progress and worsen, it became a concentration camp where Jews were sent as well.

Where the barracks once stood.

Where the barracks once stood

The bunks where the prisoners slept.

The bunks where the prisoners slept

Open area where roll call occurred.

Open area where roll call occurred

Uniform of a former prisoner.

Uniform of a former prisoner

One of the tools used to beat the prisoners.

One of the tools used to beat the prisoners

Those are just a few pictures I took, but I have to say I almost felt like I was invading the privacy of those who once suffered at Dachau. I went to visit and take pictures and learn, while many others, less than 100 years ago, were injured, beaten or never walked back out of those gates.

Memorial for those who killed themselves in the electric fence. It is supposed to represent that the people became part of the barbed wire.

Memorial for those who killed themselves in the electric fence. It is supposed to represent that the people became part of the barbed wire.

In total, we spent about two and a half hours walking around with the guide, and about an hour of it was outside. I believe that it was about exactly 0 degrees Celsius, aka 32 degrees Fahrenheit, with snow everywhere. In fact, later it started really picking up…. Now, imagine this: I was wearing hunter boots (made for the snow/rain), insulated socks for said boots, another pair of socks, a pair of leggings, jeans, two shirts, a scarf, a heavy-duty/double layered North Face, gloves and a hat, and I was still freezing. The prisoners of Dachau were forced to stand outside, in only their underwear, in conditions worse than it was that day as a means of punishment. Some found it so unbearable that they would commit suicide by running into the electric fences.

Now, the pictures I am about to share are those from the crematorium area. This was by far the hardest part of the tour, so exit the tab now if you do not wish to see.

The actual Crematorium building.

The actual crematorium building

Our tour guide said that "brausebad" means "bathhouse". However, this was the room where they would gas prisoners.

Our tour guide said that “brausebad” means something along the lines of “bathhouse.” However, this was the room where they would gas prisoners.

Brausebad.

Brausebad

This picture alone speaks volumes.

This picture alone speaks volumes

Walking through this building, in the same rooms where people died and were cremated was utterly horrific. It’s something that I had seen in textbooks or from watching movies in history class. But to see it with my own two eyes, to stand where so much evil took place was a feeling that I can’t describe to you. It is a feeling that haunts you to your very core.

Area outside the Crematorium.

Area outside the Crematorium.

The sickening thing is that this camp was located in a place so beautiful, with a quaint little river bordered by trees.

I forget what the exact number of people who died at Dachau concentration camp, but I know it was something along the lines of at least 30,000 people.To put this in perspective, imagine if someone came to Mizzou and murdered the entire study body…. It’s unfathomable.

On a brighter note, at the end of the war when the death marches occurred, the U.S. Army was able to save 16,000 people who were previously at Dachau. The camp apparently had rounded up as many prisoners as they could, and started to march them to the Alps to murder them. Thankfully, they were intercepted (and the Army goes rolling along). Another thing that I found very tragic was that the state of health of these prisoners was so bad that when the soldiers gave them candy to try and raise their spirits, some died because their bodies could not digest it (I think it had to do with the sugar content).

This trip to Dachau concentration camp was a very strong reminder of how one person with so much evil can influence others, and in turn influence the entire world. This was a devastating time in history, and one which I hope never repeats itself in any form or fashion.

However, the harsh reality of life is that bad things will continue to happen. Not even a week after my visit to Dachau, the attack on Sandy Hook Elementary occured and the lives of innocent people, innocent children where taken.

Peace sign outside the crematorium area.

Peace sign outside the crematorium area

Needless to say, this peace sign drawn outside the crematorium gave me a little hope. I thought it was very moving that someone took the time to put this outside a place that once housed so much fear and death, with no peace. It gives me hope for a better future, hope for a time when people don’t go into institutions and kill.

Maybe I’m being unrealistic, but that’s the beauty of hope and faith… I can aspire for a better world.

Until next time.

P.S. If anyone would like to learn more about Dachau, here is a really useful website: kz-gedenkstaette-dachau.de/index-e.html.

4 responses to “Day 2: Dachau concentration camp

  1. Thank you for sharing your time in Dachau! Such moving stories and photos; I felt as though I was there alongside you. I especially like how you said, “I almost felt like I was invading the privacy of those who once suffered” – it made me stop and think a moment of how we remember those who have tragically died.

    I think everyone should try to visit a place like this to instill in people the need for peace in this often chaotic world.

  2. Your experience was so well written I felt as though we could have been standing side by side. I liked how you put the numbers in perspective with the MU student body. I am so glad you went there and had this experience, I am sure it was very humbling.

    • I’m very glad you enjoyed the post! Without a doubt, my time at Dachau was very humbling. I would encourage anyone who has the chance to visit, or to go to another concentration camp.

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