August 8, 2013

Dachau Concentration Camp

Day 3
 We woke up Sunday morning to a beautiful sunrise. For me, that's always a good sign that the day will hold a lot of greatness in it. We got ready, just like the day before, and awaited our bus that would take us to our next destination: Dachau. 

Much like the day before, I was extremely excited to see what was in store for us. Knowing we were going to a place that saw so many horrific things made me appreciate that we were able to choose to visit and more importantly, we were able to leave.

The day was absolutely beautiful. I don't know why, but when I pictured being in Dachau, I imagined the weather being cloudy, maybe even a little drizzly. Our tour guide led us to the front gate, the entrance read "Arbeit Macht Frei" meaning labor makes you free. How's that for setting the mood?

 ^this is a view of the entrance from one of the barracks^
It was incredible to learn that the camp was built to hold 6,000 people and by the end of World War II, there were around 30,000 prisoners. I can't even begin to imagine how all those people fit.

Our guide led us to the barracks where we learned about the transformation of the bunks. They started out with small dividers between them, but by the end of the war, it was one big open area. We also learned that the prisoners that were new to Dachau got the top bunk, because they were the only ones who had the energy to climb to the top. When you're only getting about 2 spoonfuls of jam to last you an entire day, and you are forced to work 14 hours of hard labor, you can see why climbing to the top of the third bunk might be difficult.

These barracks are actually replications, the originals had to be burned down because the were so infested with disease. Only two sets of barracks were rebuilt, but you can still see the foundation of where the other barracks stood.

Behind the barracks are four memorials that were built to honor different religions. As we were walking toward them, I looked up at the beautiful blue sky, felt the sun warming my skin, there was a cool breeze that made the temperature comfortable and that was the moment I began to weep. It hit me so hard and so fast, it was like an emotional bulldozer. I was walking where thousands of people walked, I might have stood where someone was killed, or tortured. Would they have even been able to notice such a beautiful day? I knew I was going to cry at some point in this day, I thought it would happen in one of the exhibits, that just goes to show how emotionally charged and haunting this place is.

We walked past the memorials, through a barbed wire gate to the gas chamber/crematorium. Dachau was more of a labor camp, than a death camp, but it was also the first concentration camp established by the Nazi Party, and therefore a prototype for the rest of the camps. That being said, there was a gas chamber, but it was not "officially" used. As our tour guide put it, if it was a prototype, it probably got tested...unofficially. It was even equipped with shower heads so people wouldn't refuse to go in. The crematorium was connected to the gas chamber so the bodies could be disposed of in a timely manner.

It may not have been a "death camp," but many people were experimented on by way of torture and a lot of executions occurred. Dachau had prisons for political and religious leaders. Some of the prison cells were known as "standing cells," and as the name suggests, it was such a small space that prisoners weren't able to even sit down, and they might have been left in there for weeks on end.

 Roll-call Square

 The Memorials
 The Catholic Mortal Agony of Christ Chapel
 The Protestant Church of Reconciliation
 The Russian Orthodox Chapel
The Jewish Memorial Site

My favorite religious memorial was the Protestant Church of Reconciliation. Though it's more humble in appearance than some of the other memorials, the meaning behind the design makes it the best in my book. "The architect Helmut Striffler consciously designed the building with the church and discussion room as a counterpoint to the symmetrical, right-angled architecture of the former concentration camp." Basically, because the Nazis forced such specific order (nothing could be out of place, everything had to be in line and squared away), the architect decided he was going to thumb his nose to the Nazi ideal and create a memorial with zero right-angles. 

 "May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933-1945 because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defence of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow men."
 Never again.
 Ashes of the unknown concentration camp prisoner.
The "patch" relief.
The concentration camp memorial site. Sculpture by Nandor Glid

I wish I had beautiful words to express how this day affected me. I'll never forget it. Never.

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