The darker days. Haunting history, Dachau. Day 46 part one
The Munich morning is filled with sunshine, light streams through the soft curtains of our hotel room, but something dark hangs overhead. Today Jess and I are going to one of the darkest blights on German history, the concentration camp at Dachau. This isn’t so much something that we want to do, more something that we need to do, to remember those that lost their lives in the atrocities committed during World War Two. The history here is haunting and horrible, yet I find it an interesting and important site to visit when you’re in Munich. This may not be our happiest post on the blog but you want to see what we see, so here it is.
We of course, though it feels a little odd, take the train to Dachau. Being a student of history myself my head is flooded with the image of the poor souls forced aboard trains and trucks bound for the concentration camps. It is both an incredible experience and a horribly somber one. There are few smiles as we walk the walk thousands did through the iron clad front gates. You might notice that Jess and I aren’t in any of the photos here, I think it feels wrong to be pictured like happy and smiling tourists in a place where sadness hangs from the very walls.
The giant, hostile courtyard now widens before us. Roll call. Our feet crunch on bare white stone beneath as we timidly step out into the courtyard. Prisoners were often forced to stand here for hours on end, often until they simply collapsed or died from malnutrition. Registration. We walk through like, “new arrivals,” the former maintenance building where prisoners were registered, given a class, beaten, stripped of their belongings and thrown out into the yard. The brutality of the SS is palpable in this building, now a museum, it houses many prisoners personal items, stories and history of the camp.
A walk through the museum gives all the history and stories of the camp. Torture and terror was a way of life here, prisoners were starved, beaten and murdered on mass. Touching the walls within is a hideously tactile experience as the mind wanders as to who stood here and what was their fate? Walking out of the museum takes you in to the bunker, the prison site of the camp. Inmates were housed here for punishment, tiny cells with little to no light, hanging cells where prisoners were tortured by being hung by the wrists for hours on end. This is a horrible experience, one can feel the pain within the walls, names are scratched with fingernails into stone, wood is splintered viciously with blows from inmates driven insane by their own existence. It is a truly intense piece of history that brings many to tears.
The bunker leads to a walk along camp road. We feel as though the camp is pulling us in, I can all but see prisoners marching and hear them discussing their woes as they trudge along the harsh stone road that runs between the barracks. Walking into their housing is seeing truly the soul of this camp. Tiny bunk beds stack tight along walls, polished lockers that guards ensured were scrupulously cleaned daily as a form of psychological torture. A speck of dust would lead to a flogging or worse. There feels as though there could be no happiness in this place. And there wasn’t. The memorial at Dachau shows you everything, the campsites, the death houses, the infirmary where ill were experimented on or simply left to die there couldn’t possibly have been any light in these prisoners lives.
Leaving the tiny housing behind we step into the yard and head for the fence. Twisted, rusted barbed wire threatens at every turn, long deep canals covered in razor wire surround us and the guard towers stare with rifle mounts still in place. There was no escape here.
We cross the bridge to possibly the worst site of the memorial, the crematorium. This is where prisoners were murdered and the dead were disposed of. I say disposed because that is all these poor souls were seen as, refuse that needed to be dealt with. We stood where hundreds of bodies were piled high waiting to be burnt, nails hang from wood where nooses were once raised. Unsuspecting prisoners were lured into the “showers.” We walked through to find it was in fact a gas chamber used for the murder of inmates. This is a brutal walk. The feeling of sadness is indescribable. Walking through the forest we find the execution block, thousands of bullet holes imbed into the wall where prisoners were stood and shot, there is no let up here. This is Dachau and this is a death camp.
It’s time to leave this place, the memorial is so saddening and yet we feel a sense of accomplishment walking this walk. This is living history and it is incredible to feel something so powerful. The memory of these poor people who were wrongfully imprisoned, tortured, starved and murdered will remain within German history and within our hearts.
A day in Dachau will stay with you forever.
Josh and Jess