This post is dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust. Never again.
Dachau Concentration Camp, located about 15 kilometres outside of Munich, was the first of the tens of thousands of horrifying concentration camps that the Nazis created during their reign. Being the first camp ever created, Dachau is often considered the prototype of Nazi concentration camps. An estimated number of nearly 200,000 prisoners passed through Dachau, and at least 30,000 of them died during their time there. People imprisoned in this inhumane camp included Jews, Roma, Sinti, homosexuals, communists, and many more people who were considered “unfit for society” by the Nazis. The camp was in use for 12 years, from 1933 to 1945, until it was liberated by US troops in April 1945. My family and I came to Dachau on a day trip from Munich, and visiting it was probably one of the most impacting experiences I’ve ever had. In honour of today being International Holocaust Remembrance Day, this post is a guide to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, which is what the former camp is now home to.
The Dachau Memorial Site is located about 15 km outside of Munich, or about a 30 minute drive out of the city. For public transportation info on how to get to Dachau, click this link. It is open everyday of the year (we actually went on Christmas) excluding December 24th, from 9am to 5pm. There’s no fee to visit the site, however guided tours are available for €3,50 and audio guides are available for €4. These can be purchased at the visitor’s centre, which is also home to a cafeteria and book shop. There is also an archive and library at the memorial site. I would suggest setting aside at least two and a half hours, if not more, to spend at the memorial site.
Being the main entrance to the camp, the Jourhaus was used as the main office to the SS personnel (SchutzStaffel, the Nazi paramilitary organization). Separating the camp from the outside world is a famous gate, inscribed with the iconic yet infamous motto “Albeit macht frei” or “work makes you free”. This is an example of Nazi propaganda, basically implying that if the prisoners of the camp worked hard they would soon be freed (which was false). The original gate was stolen, so the one in the Jourhaus is a replica. However, the original gate was recently found, and it can now be find within the former maintenance room/museum.
The first thing you see after coming through the Jourhaus’ gate is the Appellplatz, or Roll Call Area. This huge square is where roll calls would take place, which were cruel daily regimes in which all the prisoners of the camp would be counted as well as inspected, humiliated, and sometimes even tortured. Roll calls took place as early as four in the morning, and in every type of weather. Dachau’s roll call area held up to 40,000-50,000 people, which is evident in the huge area of the square. When looking out into the huge square, I found it kind of chilling to think of the horrors that occurred there less than a century ago.
Another one of the first things you see when you enter the concentration camp is the International Memorial, a memoir to those who died at Dachau. It was dedicated and designed in 1968 by Nandor Glid, a Yugoslavian survivor of Dachau. The memorial is found at the bottom of a downward slope, which represents the suffering of Dachau’s prisoners, and depicts the struggle of the prisoners and how many of them attempted to escape or commit suicide by jumping into the barbed wire fences.
Now a museum about the history of Dachau, the former maintenance building was built by prisoners in 1937 to 1938. The roof of the building was once inscribed with the infamous slogan “Es gibt einen Weg in die Freiheit. Seine Meilensteine heißen: Gehorsam, Fleiß, Ehrlichkeit, Ordnung, Sauberkeit, Nüchternheit, Wahrhaftigkeit, Opfersinn und Liebe zum Vaterland” meaning “There is one path to freedom. Its milestones are obedience, honesty, cleanliness, sobriety, hard work, discipline, sacrifice, truthfulness, love of the fatherland”. This was another example of Nazi propaganda, and it was also displayed on the roof of Auschwitz’s kitchen building.
Inside the building is the former Shunt Room (left), where the admission process to the camp for new prisoners would take place. The admission procedure was very brutal, and it was often considered the point where prisoners lost all personal autonomy. Also located in the building are the former prisoner baths (top right), where prisoners would be given their prison uniforms. Now the building is home to a museum about Dachau, as well as a 1969 film about the concentration camp. It is recommended that those under 12 don’t go into the museum, and those under 14 don’t see the film (I didn’t watch it).
The bunker, or camp prison, was used as a torture centre and a place to hold special prisoners. Prisoners here would often be mercilessly tortured until they confessed the info that the SS officers wanted from them, and double walls were used to hide prisoner’s screams. Infamous standing cells, in which prisoners were forced to stand upright days on end in tiny cells, are located within the bunker.
The former homes to the imprisoned, Dachau was once home to 34 barracks, 17 on each side of the camp road. They were originally designed to hold 200 people per barrack, though by the end of the war they ended up holding 10 times their intended capacity. After the camp was liberated, the barracks were used to hold refugees. However, when construction on the memorial site began in 1964, the original barracks were demolished and two reconstructions were built. The reconstructed barrack to the right of the camp road now holds an exhibit on furnishing in the original barracks, including furnishing from three of the camp’s periods, 33-38, 38-44, and 44-45.
Leading from the roll call area to the newly added religious memorials, the camp road is the main road in the concentration camp. Now demolished, the former barracks that used to line the road are now indicated by concrete slabs (right) that show where they used to stand. The camp road is now lined with poplar trees, which were originally planted in 1937, cut down in 1967, and replanted in the 1980s. Personally, I thought the poplar trees that line the camp road gave it a slightly haunting feeling.
At the end of camp road you’ll find several religious memorials constructed around the time that Dachau was turned into a memorial site. These memorials include the Protestant Church of Reconciliation (1967), the Catholic Mortal Agony of Christ Chapel (1960), the Carmelite Convent (1964), and the Jewish Memorial (1967). In the crematorium area is the Russian Orthodox Chapel (1995).
Within Dachau’s crematorium area, there are two crematorium buildings; Barrack X, built in 1942-1943, and a smaller building, built in 1940. The first crematorium has a small crematorium, while Barrack X has a crematorium, gas chamber, and a few other rooms. Barrack X’s gas chamber is disguised as a “Brausebad” (shower), and there are contrasting reports on whether or not it was used in the murder of any of Dachau’s prisoners.
I felt it was wrong to take photos inside either of the crematoriums, so I don’t have any photos of their interiors. Although Dachau’s crematoriums weren’t used in the mass murder of its prisoners, like some of the other concentration camp’s crematoriums, it was still very haunting to visit and see the place where the bodies of thousands of Dachau’s prisoners were cremated and stored in. It’s recommended that children under 12 don’t visit the crematorium, which I would also recommend.
That brings us to the end of my post about Dachau. This was a very somber post to write, though I am really proud of how it came out.
Have you been to Dachau before? If so, what were your thoughts on it?
As always, thank you for reading.