Today was a very sombering, very emotional day for us…pretty much the opposite of yesterdays Hofbraühaus experience. Breakfast was light though. We ate at the hostel with two new friends of ours. They were actually the two boys we watched play chess for over an hour in Salzburg…we didn’t know they were coming to Munich next too, but we all ended up at the same hostel. How serendipitous! But for our main activity of the day we joined a Sandemans New Europe (the company that does our fav free tours) paid tour to Dachau Concentration Camp.
Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp opened in Germany. It was opened in 1933, just 51 days after Hitler took power. It served as a prototype and model for the 1500 Nazi concentration camps that followed.
For the first years Dachau was used to hold political prisoners, German politicians (mostly Communists) who opposed the Third Reich. As the war began and the Nazis invaded neighboring countries the number of prisoners grew and conditions worsened. The prisoners now included criminals, the mentally ill, homosexuals, gypsies and Jews from throughout Europe. The Dachau administration recorded the intake of 206,206 prisoners and 31,951 deaths. Many of the deaths were the result of poor sanitation, malnutrition, deprivation of medical care, and beatings & shootings for infraction of rules, or at random. But despite the massive number of deaths, this camps primary aim was not extermination. Prisoners in weakened condition were transferred elsewhere to be executed in the gas chambers for their unfitness. The actual number of deaths at camp remains an estimate because of the use of the crematorium and the unknown number of Soviet prisoners of war who were executed without reason and without written record.
Together with the much larger Auschwitz, Dachau has come to symbolize the Nazi concentration camps to many people. It was the second camp to be liberated and one of the first places where the previously unknown Nazi practices were exposed to the Western world.
A visit to Dachau is hard to explain. We’ll start by saying we are glad we went as part of a tour group, as opposed to on our own. There are English explanations everywhere, but the tour guide was full of extra knowledge and stories that made everything so much more real…and that’s when the camp really hits you: when you wrap your head around that fact that this all really happened. Going and seeing the camp, with the halls & barracks & vast, barren center square, is surreal in itself. The idea of people living there at all is unplesant, and when you add the horrible conditions described to you it becomes completely horrible. Everything seems to be set up to break down the prisoners mentally…and physically too. The graphic videos, photos & stories of beatings, torture & starvation makes your stomach turn and your heart hurt, all at the same time. And this is all before you even start considering that you are standing on the sight of mass murder…a center of genocide.
We are not going to give you a bunch of photos or talk about details of what we saw today, it seems in bad taste, but we encourage anyone interested to learn more about WWII, the holocaust & internment camps. It may be difficult to see, hear and read…it may seem impossible to stomach…but it is so important that we know, understand and learn, lest we never let it happen again. As you leave Bunker X and the sight of the execution wall & gas chambers at Dachau there is a simple statue. It is an unassuming man in his prisoner garb, standing in a completely symbolic casual stance. He is the unknown prisoner and he stands as a memorial to the a least 32,000 (and possibly up to 65,000) men who died in this one of 1500 camps. At the base of the statue is a simple statement: To Honor the Dead, To Warn the Living.
Our evening was subdued. When we returned to Munich, we gathered our bags from the hostel, ate a quick donair & fries supper at the rail station and boarded a train to Füssen. We got in at about 8 pm so we just went to the hostel and hung out there for the evening. Tomorrow will be a much perkier day…into a fairy tale from a nightmare. But even with calling it that, today was an incredible day, one we wouldn’t dream of trading or taking back, and one we won’t soon forget.
Love, Luck & Lasting Hope,