As a world history teacher, I was really looking forward to and dreading our 3rd stop on our tour of Bavaria.
Stop 1- Vienna, Austria (read more)
Stop 2- Salzburg, Austria (read more)
Stop 3- Dachau Concentration Camp
Stop 4- Munich, Germany (read more)
Stop 6- Lucerne, Switzerland (read more)
Stop 7- Heidelberg, Germany (read more)
Stop 8- Rhine River Cruise (read more)
Stop 9- Cologne Cathedral (read more)
I had no illusion that a visit to Dachau would impact my thoughts of humanity. Even after reading, studying and teaching World War II and it’s associated atrocities, it did not prepare me for the physical, emotional and psychological impact the visit made on my husband and me. As I stepped along the same paths that prisoners walked, I thought of those survivors who were spared and those who lost their lives.
Dachau Concentration Camp
If you know anything about world history, you have read or heard about the German concentration camps that were constructed for Hitler’s “Final Solution” for the Jews. The camp’s original purpose was to be a work camp for a munition factory. It was a prototype for other camps that would follow. Just thirty minutes outside of Munich, Dachau is a must see for all who believe that every human life is invaluable.
As we entered the original prisoner’s gate we were soberly greeted with the motto “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work will make you free”). I couldn’t help but wonder if this gave the workers false hope and maybe that was what helped some survive.
Before touring the camp, we watched an informative 30 minute video about the history of Dachau. Videos are shown in different languages at different times of the hour for the benefit of visitors from around the world. Then we spent some time in the extensive museum which takes you on a chronological journey from the discrimination before World War II to the full on murdering of 6 million Jews. The museum then covers the war crimes trials that followed Germany’s surrender.
One could spend a over an hour in the museum alone (especially if you’re a history teacher like me), but we had to move on to see the rest of the camp. As we walked past the area where the bunk houses use to be, our chatting became quieter, and my heart started to weigh heavy.
At the end of the huge area where prisoner barracks stood, religious chapels serve as a place to pray and reflect. For me, an area for prayer was a welcome relief from the tension that was building. Around the corner from the barracks was the firing squad area and crematorium. I needed to gather some strength before I could progress further into those areas.
As I sit here today, thinking about the last section of the camp, I can still feel the sadness that enveloped me that day. Who could not be moved knowing the atrocities that took place in those buildings? It was very apparent that I wasn’t the only one with a heavy heart that day. Unlike every other place on our trip, I didn’t see a single person taking a selfie, or even raising their voice above a whisper.
Back at the entrance to the memorial, we were pleasantly surprised by a special visitor in the bookstore. One of the Dachau survivors was visiting, telling about his experience at the camp, and signing copies of the book he has written. It helped to lighten my mood and hear the aging survivor talking about strength, courage, and faith that kept the prisoners from totally giving up all hope of surviving.
I must admit that this was the one of the most sobering times I have ever felt after touring the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. However, unlike some travel stops that start to blur together after some time has passed, I don’t think I will ever forget what I saw, read, and felt walking around the memorial. It will stay and should stay with me for a long, long, time.
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