Dachau, the Father of Concentration Camps

Dachau Altstadt is said to be a beautiful medieval/Renaissance/Baroquue town, but I didn’t have time for it this time.

Unlike at Auschwitz, visitors to Dachau Concentration Camp do not have to be led by a tour guide but rather, go independently with an audio guide (which wasn’t even necessary, in the end). There weren’t very many tourists for that matter.  Certainly, Auschwitz shall always be remembered as the worst extermination camp, still in its horrifyingly depressing state, whereas Dachau almost seemed peaceful and very cleaned up.

One first walks to the remains of a platform and train tracks, though the train tracks had been completely removed, on the left, which now looked out to an open field.  To the right is the entrance to the KZ (Konzentrationslager – concentration camp), its iron gates branded with the infamous lie “Arbeit macht frei” (implying that hard work led to freedom). There is a clear space in the middle, where the “prisoners” stood for roll call.  On the left are 2 remaining bunkers from 1939-1945.  Only one, however, is open to public.  In the bunker, one sees what the sleeping accommodation had been like in the 30s: triple bunkbed for 1 person each.  They were in surprisingly very good condition, as if they were from IKEA.  The last set of rooms had triple bunks from the 40s, after the influx of prisoners.  Prisoners now had to crowd with each other to sleep.  There is also a locker room, as well as a “dining” room.  In total, there were 30 bunks, the other 28 now marked by its foundations only.  The audio guide informs the listener of the racial hierarchy for the bunkers.  Germans were near the front and Jews were last — though 29-33(?) were for religious groups, mostly clerics.  At the end of the bunkers are “newly” erected religious memorials for the victims.  The crematorium is supposedly on the left, but we did not have time to visit.  Furthermore, seeing it at Auschwitz was enough.

Back in the clearing is the main museum to the right, as well as the first prisoner bunker behind it.  These 2 buildings are the most depressing.  The bunker is a long rectangular block with dozens of rooms.  These generally held “special prisoners”, who were exempt from labour and received adequate meals.  These were prisoners of war, spies, and even a Hitler-assassin.

Each prison cell had a bed (no longer there), a sink (most missing), a toilet (most have it still), and a heater.  Despite the depressing state of the cells, they had been regularly newly painted.  These walls are now peeled to reveal the different painted colours on the wall over the years (1930s-1945).  My bf found this misleading, as it would give the public the sense that the bunker was a dump.  Despite the facilities provided, I believe it was only to barely keep the prisoners alive, thus giving them a slow and painful death — first emotionally and mentally, then physically.

The museum, which had been the HQ, had a different theme for each room.  It starts off with maps and photos of different concentration camps around Europe.  I did not realise there had been so many in each city, especially in Germany.  The tour continues to the registration room, where new prisoners entered and were humiliated and often beaten while waiting to be registered.  Another room was the “shower” room, which not only served as a shower room for the prisoners after work, but as a corporal punishment room.  The rest of the rooms displayed the origins of these prisoners, the reasons for being detained, and the work and treatment to which they were subjected.  In the middle of the museum is a film room with a 20min documentary on the events leading to the KZ, during and after.  Scenes of malnourished and emaciated naked corpses made me sick to the stomach — an empty one too, which made me feel worse.

Though Dachau appears “clean-shaven”, it was just as depressing as, if not more than, Auschwitz.