Lonely, cold, dark...Dachau

Dachau. The name is haunting. Images come to mind that are not so pleasant. It’s definitely not one of Germany’s most traveled cities. The town itself is situated in a small, quaint setting in the Bavarian countryside, not far from Munich. It was a town once known for its medieval architecture, beautiful castles and residences, and old age (earliest recording in 1,000 BC). However, these days, the most notable mention of the town has to do with its dark, cold past. Dachau was the site of the Nazi party’s first concentration camp and served as a model for future camps. Dachau was categorized as a labor camp, but thousands of innocent people lost their lives within these walls. Some 200,000 were imprisoned here. Statistics vary greatly as to how many died here, but the death toll is estimated to be in the 40,000’s due to starvation, disease (a Typhus outbreak on the camp), and gas. Among these victims were:

  • Jews
  • Polish
  • Russians
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses
  • Homosexuals
  • Communists
  • Royal figures
  • Clergy
  • Politicians

Despite the painful, grim past of this camp, it was still one of the sights I wanted to see during my time in Germany. Not because, I wanted to be depressed on the trip but because, it’s a major piece of history. We went over World War II countless times in history classes both high school and college.  But seeing pictures in some textbook doesn’t even begin to compare to actually being there, in it; there to feel the pain and monstrosities. To visit a place where so much turmoil, so much strife once took place, a battlefield of morality and human rights, a continuous struggle between good and evil…to see this place, reminded me of how truly lucky I am, to just be, living. To be able to wake up freely, see the rising sun. Simple things one takes for granted. These people were all robbed of that. Robbed of the right to live, to be. I was also haunted as to how people can become so twisted, so cruel, and become walking, brainwashed robots with an inability to differentiate between right and wrong, with no moral compass.

The atrocities committed here were still fresh in the air, like a stagnant funk of death and despair, just looking around at the place, there was a certain heaviness you could feel. The buildings did not look welcoming, somewhat frightening me. They came off as giant, wide open monsters, ready to swallow up innocent people, innocent in mind and soul, each with a life, a goal, a dream… this place specialized in shooting down all hopes and desires. Just touring the place, I felt pain; I couldn’t imagine waking up to the horrors that went on here on a daily basis.

It was cold that day. But strangely enough, I liked the cold. To view this facility of mass murder, despair and hopelessness on a sunny day would have just been ironic. The cold, gray cast of that day further solidified the overall feeling of the camp. Pain, depression, trapped, inferiority, weakness, fear… I walked over to where the prisoner barracks once stood. These were on each side of the main camp road. Today, only two are still standing and open for viewing. In the shadow of where additional barracks once stood are only empty lots with the block number.

Barrack block number

Empty lots where barracks once stood...

Main camp road

Walking down that camp road, images of terror, strife,and  helplessness flashed before my eyes. Here I was, walking down the same road that so many prisoners once set foot upon. Here I was, staring at the same cold, dark building before me. Here I was, looking up at the cold, somber sky above me, saying to myself, why, why, why…here I was, attempting to internalize all of what those people felt here, from the years 1933-1945.

It’s damn near impossible to go to Dachau or any concentration camp for that matter and not get flooded full of emotion. Anger, depression, fear, confusion…just some of these overtook me while on my visit. When I went inside the two remaining barracks, you got to see just how harsh the living conditions were at this camp. Prisoners slept on hard wood bunk beds, stacked 3 beds high. They shared wash basins, and toilets. Their living quarters had to be meticulously kept up, or risk being beat or tortured by an SS guard. Toward the end of Dachau’s days, the camp was overflowing, barracks were overcrowded. Disease swept over the camp, and accounted for many prisoner deaths, next to starvation.



Lunch room

Looking out the windows from the barrack, one cannot help to feel somber…

Leaving the barracks, I walked out toward the barrier to freedom around the camp; the fence. Dachau did not replace the fence, this was the original, once electrically charged barbwire fence. Indeed there was a certain eerie factor just standing inches away from it.

A reminder of helplessness, loss of hope...

The original watchtowers where SS guardsmen used to sit with guns are still standing at the camp today.

Trench and watchtower at Dachau...

Ending my visit at the camp, I enjoyed the many memorials they had constructed, in an effort to remember those who met their untimely fate at the hands of the Nazis. Perhaps the most striking one was the international monument, a 4 ft. tall bronze sculpture of emaciated inmates scattered on a barbwire fence. The monument was not exactly peachy to look at, but nonetheless served as an honest, raw reminder of the hardships people faced while here.

International monument

I also liked the message here on this wall…

Walking toward the gatehouse to exit the camp, I came away from this dreary place reflecting upon my own life, and how very thankful I am for it. It baffles me how the crimes against humanity committed here some 75 years ago still to this day, haunt. The scars are deep. The sorrow is great. The memory will never fade. The Nazis never took into account how their actions would leave a ominous, painful shadow not only to the victims but to the whole world.

Me in front of the entry gate some 200,000 prisoners once walked through...