While Lori and I were reluctant to visit any of the German extermination camps, our sons, both of whom had traveled through Germany and had studied Wotld War II, convinced us that we should go to the Dachau “concentration” camp.
Dachau, the first of the German Concentration (or forced labor) camps, opened in 1933, 17 miles north of Munich. Located on the grounds of a former munitions factory (northeast of the medieval town of Dachau), the camp’s original plan called for it to serve as a detention center for political prisoners. Later on, it housed German and Austrian criminals; then nationals from countries Germany had invaded; finally housing Jews and other “undesirables.” Eventually, Dachau became a complex of more than 120 sub-camps.
While the focus of the concentration camps, like Dachau, was different (focusing on forced labor) from the “death” (or “extermination”) camps, such as Auschwitz or Buchenwald, at least 32,000 deaths were recorded at Dachau, from overwork. Inmates entering the camp were greeted by its famous logo, “Work will set you free!, Their apparent interpretation was that by working hard they could obtain release from the camp; not realizing that in this instance, “freedom” meant death. Guards often employed floggings, forcing inmates to stand at attention for extreme periods of time, putting inmates in cells so tiny that they could only stand and not lay down, etc. as means of punishment.
Following the end of Wotld War II, the camp was used to detain SS soldiers awaiting trial for war crimes and, later, as a U.S. Military Occupation base. Dachau was officially closed in 1960 before being turned into a museum.
Our visit to Dachau, while informative, was quite sobering. We did have some preconceived notions of what we would see there (mostly from old newsreels). Still, seeing the actual camp and walking it’s grounds, really emphasized its brutality.
Driving in our bus alongside the camp, we got a sense of how large it really was.