Today I headed to Dachau to see the Concentration Camp that’s now a museum. It was a fairly easy ride on the train and everything was well marked. When I arrived at the station, there was a bus full of people so it was easy to find. It was odd because the residential area and I kept waiting for it to open up to a big space where it would be the whole camp area. But street after street, it felt like we were just going deeper into a neighborhood. Finally it had a little clearing, but not nearly enough, and what’s shocking is what I learned after being at the camp.
When I got in, I wanted to do the 2 hour tour, but it only started at 11am, and I got there around 9:30am, so I figured I’d just go ahead with an audio tour instead. There were tons of groups from schools, and I’ve decided that I’m going to give a personal award to a couple of generalized groups. The winner for the most annoying group of tourists this trip goes to the Italians, with the French and Koreans tying for 2nd place. The Italian kids were loud and obnoxious, and tried to play soccer with anything that rolled or was shaped like a circle. It was horrible. The French kids shoved and were just oblivious and loud, and the Korean groups were more vandals rather than audible. There was so much Korean scribbled on walls where exit signs were as in (acknowledge our language, please put it on the door).
Despite these groups, I plugged myself up to the audio tour which helped drown the nuisance and let me concentrate on the story of the camp. Entering into the camp, you see the railroad tracks that were used of bringing train loads of prisoners to the camp, and these tracks are still visible as well as part of the foundation of the ‘station’ deck. Walking into the camp, the gate has been reconstructed to its original form, and you emter through the famous iron gate that reads ‘Arbeiten Macht Frei’.
Inside the gate walls, see immediately see the large area, the main square, and the main building. The barracks have been reconstructed as well as the remainder of the foundations relief-ed to show their alignment and rows. They did an amazing job of the reconstruction resembling what I saw in the pictures on all the plaques that described things in more detail. Throughout the walk outside, the thoughts of what my grandfather saw and wondering what it was like for him to see what I was hearing simple words that effected such emotion from me, I immediately wanted to ask questions to him. It’s a shame that that generation endured what they did, but also that so many memories have gone untold.
Walking through the barracks (which were built for about 200 and by the end housed 2000 each), it was amazing to think what went on here. The sacred ashes of so many innocent lives that had been burned simply for no reason. There were a lot of commerative items throughout the park donated by specific groups. Catholics, Jews, etc.. any group that was deemed prison worthy — they all had a very structured symbol. The upside down triangle, obviously showing degradation, color-coded to the ‘offense’. I didn’t know this, but this is where the pink triangle representing Gay Rights came from–the pink triangle was used for imprisoning homosexuals, just as there were colors imprisoning Jahovah’s witnesses. Add being a jew to the mix, and you simply put a right side yellow triangle behind it, and you have the star of David–and yes, try putting the yellow triangle behind the Jahovah’s Witness upside down one. Crazy, right? The nonsensical nature of everything they did was simply appalling to think someone had the amount of power he had to coerce people to follow this evil regime into torture and terrorism. I also felt like the word terror was used consistently, that made me realize that our ‘terrorism’ today, while not even a fraction of what has happened then, but resembles the terror that Hitler brought to thousands upon thousands. We are in a new age of terrorism, one that luckily doesn’t create physical torture as this was, but one that still affects our daily living–think all the ridiculous security measures we have to endure now.
The Crematorium, gas chambers, fumigation rooms and such were unbelievable. It’s just eerie to even be where such things occurred, and I found myself wondering over and over again what my grandfather saw. I wanted to know so many details of his time there, and wonder what exactly he did. I kept finding myself looking at all the videos trying to see any images of the US troops and wonder, was he there, was he the one helping.
There was a film that showed about 35 minutes worth of a short story version of all film that was available. It was really interesting, and just showed amazing inhumane, non-shuttering actions of these men. I learned a lot today, and saw a lot that will be a reminder of how thankful I am to live in this time period and country where I don’t have to endure government torture and persecution simply because of who I am. There is still a fight for equality, but it’s not for mere survival.
I walked around Dachau and despite it being a quaint town, there really wasn’t anything much to do there. I found myself lunch and then headed back to the train to get back home. I got back to the hostel and relaxed a bit and caught up on some emails. Tomorrow I’ll head to Zurich, Switzerland!