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Published: June 11th 2016
What a glorious day has dawned. The best we have had in a while with not a cloud to be seen and the sun streaming in the window at breakfast time.
It is the right sort of day to visit somewhere with a very sad background. The Dachau Memorial site infamous for its terrible treatment of human beings by a regime the world will never forget.
We had visited one of the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz/Birkenau in Poland in 2009 and we thought that would be enough to pay our respects to the millions who died during WW2 and to gain a better understanding of why it was allowed to happen.
However, Dachau was slightly different in the Nazi plans for a perfect world for their followers in that it was established as a camp to hold people who had views of the policitical system other than that of the Nazis in 1933 and over time was expanded to imprison Jewish people and others that the Nazi regime wanted to exterminate.
It is pure coincidence that today is June 6th,D-Day,when the Allies landed on Normandy Beaches in France and began the full scale liberation of Nazi
held European territory, and a day to celebrate the start of freedom for those people who did not want to live under that regime.
Our plan is to drive to Dachau to the north west side of Munich and in doing so avoid the city environment as far as possible to make sure the journey isn’t slowed by city traffic.
Heading north then west and then north again should do the trick and also give us a drive in the picturesque Bavarian countryside.
It turned out to be a very pleasant drive through small villages and towns that took us to Starnberg and then further north past cultivated fields and more villages until we reached the outskirts of Dachau.
We had assumed, foolishly, that the Memorial site would be well signposted. We hadn’t taken into account that we were entering from the other side of the town.
Best thing to do was to find the tourist office and get directions. So we took a park in the middle of the quaint centre of town built on a small hill with a flat plain all around.
We got what we needed and headed off to
the Memorial site in what had been an abandoned munitions factory.
We had noticed as we drove towards Dachau that the outside temperature in the car had been steadily rising and by lunchtime when we parked at the site the temperature was at 25C and we were looking for shade to have a boot lunch before we entered the site.
As you would expect there is an air of calm over this place now in contrast to the level of terror and fear that would have existed for those people who were interned here.
Other visitors who arrived the same time as we did and those who were leaving moved silently along the path through the trees that hid the existence of the camp. Their conversations were in low tones in reverence to the place they were entering or leaving from.
The Memorial site was opened in 1965 to inform people of what happened here between 1933 and 1945 when the camp served as a model for future Nazi concentration camps that were established in Germany and occupied territory. It was also the initial training camp for the dreaded SS who for the most part ran
concentration camps for the Nazi regime.
After the information centre you enter through a gate that has the words ‘Arbeit macht frei’ or in English ‘Work will make you free’ an irony that the prisoners soon came to realise was never going to happen to them.
Then before you is the vast assembly ground where the prisoners were often kept for hours if there had been an attempted escape or another incident that upset the commandant of the camp.
Only a few of the original mass of buildings survive today but then this is a Memorial site and does not need to look like it did during those dreadful years for those who were imprisoned here or those like us who come to pay their respects and try to get a better understanding of history at its worst for human beings.
The barracks that is left is pretty well as it was in 1945 with a few small changes. In a number of the small cells there are stories of the prisoners who had been kept there from political dissidents to Jews and homosexuals and others that did not fit the Nazi regime.
was also a rather vivid description of the torture that all prisoners feared, pole hanging. We will leave it to your imagine as to what this abhorrent suffering was all about.
In another block that has been rebuilt are examples of the way prisoners were housed when they weren’t being kept in cells. The bunks were stacked 4 high within the height of a standard building so you imagine the room they had to move on their bed which had no mattresses.
We arrived just in time for a 20 minute movie as to how and why the camp was established. As no film survived during the years of WW2 of what happened in the camp the movie quoted stories from people who survived their interment. The movie then finished with the liberation of the camp by US soldiers who then set up a base using the buildings that the prisoners had been held in. It also showed locals who lived in the town going through the camp after the liberation and commented that the locals knew nothing of the conditions of what the prisoners were going through right on their doorstep.
It is hard to understand
why the locals didn’t know what was happening but then everyone who did not support the Nazi regime was scared of them and what might happen to them if they spoke out. Such was the domination of the Nazi regime!
We passed by the two memorials on the edge of the parade ground heading for the avenue of poplar trees which if they were sited anywhere other than here you would admire them as a lovely addition to nature.
There was a picture which was taken a short time after the trees were planted in late 1938 at the start of the walk you can take down to various memorials erected by religious groups including for Jewish, Protestant and Russian Orthodox religions. The trees at that time were hardly taller than 1 to 2 metres but now were towering many, many metres towards the beautiful blue sky above.
Off to both sides of the path lined with the trees were the foundations of the other 32 long barrack buildings that were used to house the prisoners.
We had a look at the religious memorials including a Carmelite Church that was built to commemorate those from the
Catholic order that were imprisoned as well.
The Jewish memorial was as you might expect, very well stated. You walk down a small path to be slightly below ground in a darkened chamber that is lit at one end by a shaft of light that enters the chamber from a chimney like structure.
We ended our visit at the building that was off to one side of the main camp area. The gas chamber was never actually used for the mass exterminations that the Nazis carried out at all their other concentration camps. No one seems to know why the gas chambers were never used at Dachau.
The gas ovens to dispose of the thousands of bodies of those who died at the camp were used and they are still visible today. Gretchen chose not to enter the building and I must say I didn’t stay long either passing through very quickly.
Our visit ended as it started and we walked back rather solemnly to the car and headed back for the apartment which seemed like a world away compared to where we had spent the last 3 hours.
We ended up taking a different
route back home and ended up a bit too close to Munich which at times made our progress slow.
We finally made it home when we changed the GPS to the fastest rather than the shortest route for although it increased the distance travelled it took us away from the heavy traffic flows.
It was still very warm when we arrived home so we had our pre dinner drinks on the garden swing at the back of the apartment and collected our thoughts about the visit to Dachau.
Tomorrow we take on Munich a city we have been close to on previous BBA's but never actually made it to see the sights.
PS:watch the short video which is very poignant and you will get the feeling for the few minutes duration as we experienced during our time at Dachau today
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