Sunday, April 29, 2012

Dachau, Germany

WARNING: This is not a happy post.

The subject is Dachau - a World War II concentration camp. History is not pretty. Before moving to Germany I really didn't know much about this country aside from what I had learned about it in history class. I knew the war was long over, but really had no idea what it would be like to live here. After settling in I was pleasantly surprised, as you have probably gathered if you have read some of this blog. Traveling around we have had the opportunity to learn about so much history. You may be surprised by that fact that this is neither limited to nor dominated by World War II history. People have lived in Germany for thousands of years and the history we have been exposed to includes Celtic cultures, Roman dominance, and the middle ages. Much of this history was filled with war and battles, but since it happened so long ago most of what we see are the structures associated with the time periods.

World War II was a sad time in Germany's recent history. Many of the people living here didn't like what was happening, yet were powerless to stop it. It has been about 65 years since the horrors of the concentration camps were stopped. Even so, the war has created a lasting effect on the population most evident to me by the fact that I rarely see German flags.

Visitors enter the concentration camp through the main gate marked with the words Arbeit Macht Frei. This is the same place that victims once entered. At the camp we saw many school groups as it is a requirement for all German school children to visit a concentration camp prior to graduation.

 One of the first things visitors notice is a building which served as housing for prisoners.

Inside it is filled with rows and stacks of beds. These housing units were severly overcrowded as about 10 people were assigned to each bed.

Behind the building are the footprints of many more which have been destroyed. Two of them housed prisoners designated to be used for medical experimentation.

The camp was nearly escape proof. It was surrounded by towers with armed gunman, a trench, a row of glass, two rows of barbed wire, and a river on one side. Some prisoners willing entered the zone where the gunman were free to fire knowing what would happen.

A seperate building housed special prisoners such as those who had attempted to assasinate Hitler.

In the back of the camp, away from the main prisoner area stands the most gruesome building at the camp. It housed the clothes disinfecting area, the crematorium and a gas chamber which was never used. Unbelievable as it is, the process of death and dealing with the dead at the camp was extremely efficient.

Behind the crematorium are two large ash piles which are marked as memorials. One Jewish and the other Christian. Although many Jewish people were killed at the camp they were not the only victims. Anyone seen as inferior could be sent to the camps. This included homosexuals, handicaped, gypsies, Poles, Soviet Prisoners of war, Johovah's Witnesses and others.

Now four large memorials stand for visitors of different faiths to remember the inmates who suffered here and died.

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  1. What a sobering but important place to visit.

  2. Great field trip hope you add it to the hop not many get a chance to visit that live outside the states. When we went 13 years ago I was so impressed that the Germans don't hide away from their past and that the school kids are required to go But it was a sobering experience for me as it affected me for several of days to see the destruction of human beings by other humans. I have never been able to go back and take my children even tho I should.

  3. Agree this is a very sad post. However, I thank you for sharing it. Most of us will never have the opportunity to actually go to such a place; so seeing it through your eyes is good for us. I am happy that you are sharing your field trips and experiences even if they are sometimes sad reminders of difficult times.

  4. Wow! Thanks for the warning at the beginning of the post. It was a terrible time in world history. However, you and your children are blessed to get the chance to see history. Thanks for sharing

  5. My husband was just there a few months ago for business and stopped there because we had just finished studying WW2. So he got some pictures and information for my daughter.

    Such a sobering experience. Even in pictures.

    Popping in from the HipHH.

  6. What a sobering experience. Nothing brings history to life better than visiting places where events really happened. Thank you for sharing the pictures with those of us who don't get a chance to see such places otherwise.


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