The first site we decided to see in Munich was the concentration camp at Dachau. I personally had no great desire to see the place, to be honest my initial feelings were that I didn’t want to go. But it was an important historical place and we were there, so we took the tour.
Dachau was the first and longest running concentration camp, operating throughout the entire twelve year rule of the third reich. It was not an extermination camp, although being the model for all other camps it did have a fully functional gas chamber. During the early years the place was mainly used for political prisoners as well as regular criminals. During the war years the population grew to include all of Hitler’s “undesirables”. Dachau also had an SS training camp attached to the concentration camp, so the SS guards at Dachau were as cruel and inhumane as any.
Being at the actual site on a cold, wet, bitter day brought the appalling history of the place to life in a way I never thought possible. It made it more real and incredible than history lessons and documentaries had done. At one point I had to leave the tour because I was physically ill from hearing about the torture that these detainees experienced.
After visiting the main block and detention cells, we explored a reconstruction of the prisoners’ barracks, and the the open yard.
Dressed in thermals, jeans, a jumper, jacket and a woolen hat, I was about as cold as I have been so far this trip Yet the prisoners of Dachau were given thin pants and a shirt, and a light jacket during winter.
From the barracks we visited the crematorium, the gas chamber and the site of the unmarked mass-graves of prisoners who spent their final days at Dachau.
Dachau was originally a munitions factory before it was a concentration camp. After the war it was a prison for people charged with warcrimes, and eventually became a camp for refugees. Today it is a memorial site for those who suffered torture and death during the Nazi regime. I initially did not want to visit Dachau, but I am certainly glad that I did. This was an example of humanity’s darkest hour and to ignore it because it is unpleasant is to forget or diminish the horrors that occurred there, which is something that we cannot do.