Monday, August 19, 2013

Munich and Dachau Concentration Camp

My last day in Munich. Michelle’s knee was totally stuffed, so I went to Dachau on my own. Tim helped me with working out the transport – S8 to Liem, S2 to Dachau, Bus to the Camp. It was really simple and the bus to the concentration camp was waiting at the station when I got off the train.

It was really hard to see Dachau as the terrible camp it was. That was because it was a bright sunny spring day. The birds were singing loudly, all the new green leaves were on the trees, and it was in a truly beautiful setting. I think the best time to visit would be winter, when one can imagine how cold it would have been for the prisoners and the landscape would be stark.

The camp is free for visitors, so I decided to check out the audio-guide option – hoping it would be compatible with my implant – and it was! I was really surprised – first time ever! I rented the guide for 3 euros 50 and for the first time was able to hear everything and understand everything. I spent about 3 hours wandering around listening to the informative guide, and was really shocked to find out that Jews were sent to the camps as early as 1933. I had thought it was only for the duration of the war – from 1939 to 1945. A couple of times I wondered why I couldn't hear anything, to find I had clicked on an account of the camp that was actually in German or Dutch!

After wandering down the tree lined avenue you enter Dachau Concentration Camp through gatehouse that was built in 1936.

Newly arriving prisoners were forced through this gate with the inscription ‘Work Brings Freedom’.

Located in this gatehouse were the interrogation rooms of the Political Dept/Gestapo and the offices of the block and report leaders. Prisoners accused by the SS of violating camp rules were interrogated and sentence to corporeal punishment or torture. The prisoners therefore consider the gatehouse (jourhaus) to be the centre of SS Rule over the camp.

The roll call area was huge. The prisoners had to assemble here every morning and evening for roll call.  In all weather conditions they had to stand to attention motionless for about an hour. Sometimes even the dead had to be dragged to the roll call ground to be counted. If the number of prisoners didn't match the official head count, then the torture could last for many hours. Sick and weak prisoners often collapsed but other prisoners were forbidden to help. The SS often carried out punishments for all prisoners to see. Many sick/exhausted people died on this ground.

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The Maintenance building was built by the Prisoners in 1937-1938. It served the needs of the prisoners in the camp, and housed a kitchen, laundry, and workshops. Today it serves as the museum for visiting tourists. It also has a memorial room with plaques and books in memory of those who died. 

Looking towards the Maintenance building from the Barracks. I have to say I visited the public restrooms in the Maintenance Building. The smell was terrible. So bad I had to hold my nose. They looked clean, so I wondered if the smell is just left over from camp days, and if so, then I had no right to complain if that was all I had to suffer in the short time I was in there!

The Memorial Room...

The perimeter fence surrounded the camp and was built and designed to make escape impossible. SS men kept watch from seven towers in the camp. The minute a prisoner entered the prohibited zone, they were fired upon. Some prisoners ran to the border strip on purpose to put an end to their suffering.

This part of the Perimeter fence had a moat, then a barbed wire fence, and where the trees were was also a river.  So it was really difficult for any escape to be successful.

During the new construction of the camp, the prisoners had to build 34 barracks. Every barrack was divided into four rooms, comprising of a day room and a dormitory. Each barrack was fitted to hold 200 men, however towards the end of the war they were completely overfilled, and holding up to 2000 prisoners in each. 

Most of the barracks were dismantled but each row would have had barracks in a line like the black and white photo below..

The tree lined 'avenue' was beautiful, and like I said before, it was hard to believe that it was a place of so much human suffering.

Bouquets of flowers in remembrance were placed on various rows of barracks.

The Crematorium was built in the summer of 1940 after the foreign prisoners arrived and the mortality rate greatly increased. A year later it was working beyond capacity, and another bigger crematorium with more ovens was nearby. This particular one was in operation until 1943. During this period nearly 11,000 prisoners were cremated here.

In the same complex of the new crematorium, several other rooms were built. The Waiting room, where prisoners were to be gathered and informed about the ‘showers’ they were about to go into.

The Gas Chamber which was supposedly never used. The room was disguised as ‘showers’ and equipped with fake shower spouts to mislead the prisoners and prevent them from refusing to enter the room. During a period of 15-20 minutes, up to 150 people at a time could be suffocated to death through poison gas (Zyklon B).

I was rather chilled to be standing in this room. I also am left wondering about the information that it was ‘never used’. Why build it if not to be used? The prisoners aren’t likely to know if the room was used or not, and the camp leaders/gestapo aren’t likely to own up to it either! Big question mark here for me!

The Death chamber where the dead were brought before they were cremated.

And finally the new Crematorium or ‘incinerator room’. Each of the four furnaces could cremate 2-3 corpses at once. The ovens were connected to the chimneys by an underground canal. In front of the ovens is the execution site. Most hangings were carried out directly in front of the ovens.

After the liberation of Dachau Concentration Camp and the sub-camps by USA soldiers, the USA army were faced with the task of taking care of more than 60,000 survivors and their repatriation. The typhus epidemic had to be combated, the ill cared for, and several thousand buried. At the end of July 1945, the last of some 30,000 prisoners left the camp. For many of the Jewish survivors there was however, no return home. Their relatives had been murdered and their livelihoods annihilated. The USA army set up separate camps for these people. There they were prepared for emigration to Palestine, the USA or other Western States. Many of them were therefore forced remain in Germany for many years before they could finally leave.

After I dropped back the audio-guide, I waited for the bus to take me back to the train station. The amount of pollen in the air was incredible - never seen anything like it. If you look carefully you'll see white stuff floating in the air!

Back at the station, I decided to walk around the Dachau town centre itself, armed with a shopping list for my friend Viola back home. I managed to get everything on her list, although had to go to several shops to find them all as some didn't stock the brands she wanted. Everyone was helpful, and most amused when I bought six tins of cough lozenges for export to NZ!  Dachau itself was really beautiful. Like Ismaning where I was staying, there are trout in these beautiful clear, clean canals.

I did wonder though, how the residents of Dachau didn't know what was going on over at the nearby camp. Or if they did, were they powerless to prevent it or speak out? I had so much going on in my mind. Every town here has so many churches – why didn't the church step in and prevent what was happening?

I walked back to bus station and made my way back to Ismaning where Michelle made a late lunch, early dinner – a beautiful healthy smoothie and a gorgeous meal. I think I’ll have to come and live with her in Munich she’s such a great cook.

Afterwards we all went for a walk with my luggage to the park next to the train station and sat and talked and watched Ayla play and run around. Made me realise that life goes on, always renewing no matter how bad situations get. I just wish History wouldn't repeat! Ayla is gorgeous - such a busy wee tot!

I then got on the train and headed to the airport to catch my plane to Thessaloniki to meet up with Vivie and my daughter for the next part of our travels. This image was taken from the train, and is so typical of the Munich countryside I saw. Colourful, lush, clean, beautiful.

I had arrived in Germany prepared to dislike the country immensely due to what happened in WWII. But I was pleasantly surprised that it was so beautiful. Everything ran like a well oiled machine. People were friendly and helpful and I enjoyed my stay immensely. 

I’m glad I went to Dachau though.

Lest we Forget.


Paula said...

And yes, everyone's friendly now. And of course they knew what was going on. I've read you could smell the crematoria for miles. They knew. So did the churches. Some protected Jews, but not enough did.

Leona said...


As a Jew, I found this post interesting, disturbing, and sad. I am very lucky that my family was already in North America during this horrible time, so I did not lose any relatives in the camps. But that doesn't really make it any easier. Thank you for sharing.


Xpressive Handz said...

While I was living in Germany in the 1980's, I went to Dachau. I cried. I asked the same question as you, how come the neighbors didn't know. I was told that they heard the singing of the inmates, not knowing it was a coping mechanism for them. It was a factory, and with factories in those days pollution and odors were the norm. They did not know what was really going on. Also, they told us birds still did not fly over the compound. I did not see any living creatures in it..just us humans. I was overwhelmed with grief and sadness and I could not finish the tour. I had to find a place to sit and and mourn. I was saddened for weeks after going to Dachau.