January 4, 2017

Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site


On day 5 of our stay in Munich, we woke up late - mid morning. Jet lag was still getting the better of us and we were tired from our trip to the King's Castles from the day before. We originally planned on getting a single day pass and visiting Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, Lymphenburg Palace and the BMW Museum (in that order -- the BMW Museum had the latest closing time). We thought we could still possibly pull all three off but we ended up staying 5 hours at the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site trying to take in all the information as possible. I highly underestimated the amount of time needed here.

From the Munich Central Station, we took the S2 to Dachau Station (it took approximately 25 minutes). From there we took the #726 bus, which dropped us off in front of the entrance of the memorial site (bus stop: KZ-Gedenkstätte). 

We didn't opt to take the guided tour, which was about 3 hours long. I didn't think we would be staying that long. Looking back, I think I would have liked to take the guided tour and then take time to see things on my own. I really think Dachau deserves a full day of your undivided attention. 

Yangkyu and I instead rented two audioguides (3.5 euro each) and from the first information panel we came across, which happened before stepping into the main site, we were already reading every last word and listening to the entire description from the audio guide. 


The iron gate at the entrance into the camp reads "Arbeit macht frei". It means "Work will set you free." This phrase is found on a number of other camp entrances including Auschwitz. This iron gate in Dachau was a replica because the original had been stolen two years ago. I was curious about it and after looking it up online I found out that the gate was recently found in Norway.

Walking down the path leading to the entrance of Dachau itself was a sobering experience. It really hits you right away - the place you are at, the path you are walking - and what it all means. 

My first young adult book my mom got me was The Diary of Anne Frank. I remember reading and had so many questions.

I learned about the Holocaust in school - as a young child, in high school and in college. I remember our high school showed Schindler's List in the school auditorium to the entire student body. Parents had the option of writing to the school to exempt their children from watching if they thought the material was too mature for them. I think everyone participated. And everyone either cried or were overcome with a solemness we didn't know quite how to process. I've read books, watched movies and documentaries. Even before learning about the Holocaust, I knew it was a tragedy. It was horrifying and the sadness overwhelming. But it wasn't until I went to Dachau that I began to really comprehend what tragedy, atrocity and sadness really meant when it came to the Holocaust and the concentration camps. Perhaps I am now a bit more mature and I have gone through life experiences that give my emotions more depth. 













I didn't end up taking a lot of pictures while at Dachau. I took photos of mostly the exterior, especially those poplar trees that line what is called The Camp Road. The information panel reads: 
After the morning assembly in the block roads, the prisoners marched along the camp road to the roll-call area. After work and the evening roll call they returned in closed formation to their barracks. The road lined with poplar trees was the prisoners' central meeting place. In the few free hours they had, here they could meet friends from other barracks and exchange information. The "spirit of the camp road", as the prisoners expressed it, was a symbol of the solidarity amongst the prisoners which developed despite the omnipresent violence.
 I don't think I will ever forget those poplar trees and what it felt like to walk that road. On either side were beds of gravel where barracks were once located. It was rows and rows and rows of barracks. 

Dachau was the first concentration camp opened in Germany in 1933. At first it was intended to hold political prisoners. Then came the imprisonments of Soviet prisoners of wars, Jews, Sinti, Roma, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witness and more. Dachau served as a model for other Nazi concentration camps that followed. It was not an extermination camp but people were put to harsh work, tortured, suffered brutal treatment and were experimented on. 

One of the hardest and most shocking views at the memorial site was the crematorium. It was hard to be there. I cannot describe it. I have always told Yangkyu that I don't do very well with death and I have tried to figure it out with him. That hardship I have, I felt here. And it was hard to walk away without tearing. 

I shivered when I walked into the gas chamber although it is said that the gas chambers in Dachau were not used to kill people but to disinfect clothing. It was nonetheless haunting.

Accompanying these shocking sites at Dachau were religious memorials. Simple and moving. There is also a museum where we spent considerable amount of time. I don't think Yangkyu and I said a single thing to each other while we were in the museum. We just gave each other space to view at our own pace. 










I saw many people taking selfies, even at the crematorium. On Instagram I saw a girl standing on the camp road lined with poplar trees giving a shout out to her shoes and where people can buy them. I didn't understand this and it was disappointing to say the least. It was also difficult to think how atrocities keep happening, and we keep saying never again and yet it happens again... and again. 

The sun was going down when we were leaving Dachau. We left at closing, 5 pm. We were not in the mood to see anything else, especially something like the BMW Museum. It didn't seem appropriate. We just grabbed a quick dinner and headed back to our hotel room. 

I have been watching two documentaries on Netflix that put a new perspective of WWII and the Holocaust. They are Auschwitz: The Nazis and The Final Solution and The Untold History of the United States (I'm still watching this but did get through WWII). They are well worth the watch if you are interested.

The following day we headed to Salzburg. We hope you'll come back to hear our stories from there. 




5 comments

  1. So well written Jane, your insight and experience and photos are very heartfelt. I always wondered if I could visit a concentration camp myself, I have a fear that the emotions would be too much, I'm glad we're still talking about the atrocities and I'm sad that they are still happening too :(

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  2. These pictures are so beautiful. So symmetrical.. the place is so nice.. where is it?

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  3. Happy New Year Jane!! I hope you spent a nice New Year's traveling! Visiting the concentration camp memorial site must have been an interesting experience. I'm always in awe when I visit places that have so much history. pretty inconsiderate of the girl taking selfies but...
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  4. These were really moving pictures, I hope to go here one day. I don't understand how someone could take pictures of their shoes there though, especially at a place like this, I'm in shock about that. People are just plain stupid to be so blunt. I would be in tears being here, I cry easy, in fact I have tears looking at the pictures. I watch a lot of videos and things on the Holocaust, atrocities against various group of people are horrible and should never be forgotten or they can be repeated. Fantastic post x

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  5. Visiting Dachau sounds like a sobering and moving experience. I regret not having visited when I was in Munich a few years ago.

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