Visit to Dachau Concentration Camp
Author: Daniel Silveira
I arrived in Munich knowing Dachau was a quick trip by train away but we weren’t convinced that we wanted to take the day trip to go visit the concentration camp that is there. We spoke about it and discussed for about a day about if we wanted to go or not, knowing how emotional it would be. We finally decided we took this trip for a purpose and that purpose was to gain experience and perspective, no matter how hard or emotional it might be. So we booked the tour.
Everything about this day was unique and impactful so I decided to write about it. Here we go.
In the late 1920s, Munich was known for the birthplace of Adolf Hitler’s political movements and his Nazi Party’s rise to power. In 1933, this city would host the first of 40,000 concentration camps that tortured and murdered 11 million Jews, homosexuals, mentally ill, and many others, throughout Europe. This concentration camp is called Dachau Concentration Camp (DCC). Dachau was known as the “model” of all concentration camps. This is where the SS Army tried and learned all that is evil and how other camps would be administrated and ran. Also, almost every building that stands today at Dachau is original, which makes the whole experience that much more horrifying.
We decided to take a tour that focused on the prisoners’ experiences. So instead of talking about WWII, Hitler, SS Army, or Nazism, the attention was on why and how the prisoners came to Dachau and about their time there. I won’t be too detailed about it but will try to paint a blurry picture of what I saw and in return how it made me feel.
We woke up that morning to a brisk 40-degree Fahrenheit and pouring rain. When I say pouring, I mean downpour. From Munich Central station, we took a 15-minute train ride to the suburban town of Dachau, a nice little town full of quaint homes and shops. From there, we took a bus to the concentration camp. Little did I know the experience had already started from this point. This is the exact route countless prisoners took on their way to DCC.
Once we got to Dachau Concentration Camp, the guide took us by the information center to give us a brief historical background. Still pouring rain, we stood outside even though there were covered areas everywhere to avoid the rain. At first I thought it was ridiculous. I thought to myself “I didn’t pay money to get poured on, this is bullshit,” but very soon after, I realized this guide doesn’t give a shit about me getting wet or feeling a little cold, and after stepping inside the camp, I agreed with him. This wasn’t about me or anyone else around me; this was much bigger than my shivering-unprepared-self. I was standing at the birthplace of one of the ugliest histories of mankind and the feeling of the rain quickly disappeared when I stepped through those gates and another feeling quickly overwhelmed me.
In my opinion, the most unique parts of DCC are the original buildings. I didn’t realize it until I went in to all of them. The barracks (where the prisoners lived) were the only non-original buildings because they were completely contaminated with diseases after the war, and since they used DCC as a refugee camp for war victims from all over Europe, they had to be destroyed. There were, however, 2 main original structures that left an impression that I will never forget: the solitary confinement and the crematory.
I think the names of these buildings spoke for itself. Misery, torture, murder, abuse, etc. When I went in to these two buildings, everything felt different. The air was heavier, quite literally. It almost felt like every person that died there left his or her soul there and it got to the point where it is palpable. It smelled like misery and I wish I can explain it better but I am quite incapable of that. It was an absolutely miserable place.
The worst nightmare that I could ever imagine doesn’t even come close to this. This was unimaginable. I am fully convinced that anyone that has a plethora of vocabulary in their mental dictionary can’t translate the situation and the emotions that run through you when you go visit one of these camps.
I remember clearly that the tour guide made quite a memorable point at the end of the tour. He said Nazi Germany isn’t the only organization that has caused misery to another group of people. Countless countries and groups have done things that are unimaginable, including our own. It happens that WWII was very well documented and preserved which is why these types of horrific places can be visited in numerous places around Europe.
This was a reminder of the history that cannot be repeated. It is a completely indescribable feeling you get here and to know the history and hear the stories and read the books is one thing, but to see it in real life and witness where the cruelty of humans to one another took place, was an image that will be imprinted in my memory forever.