Stefan and I visited Dachau almost 2 months ago. I’ve been putting off writing this because it isn’t exactly pleasant to spend your day walking around a concentration camp. We visited on a cold, windy, overcast day where rain would spit from the sky off and on. We thought about not going, but if we waited for a nice day in Germany to visit places we wouldn’t get to see much. Also, this really allowed us to see just a small part of what made concentration camps difficult. We were freezing walking around with warm layers on. I couldn’t imagine standing out there with just those thin uniforms on while exhausted, sleep deprived and hungry.
“Work Sets You Free”
Dachau Concentration Camp is one of the better known camps and that is very evident when you see the amount of people walking around the memorial grounds. It was such a different feeling from walking around Flossenburg where we were basically there alone.
Entrance to the camp. We were standing where the railroad tracks used to be.
Dachau opened in 1933 and was the concentration camp that all the other camps were modeled after. Dachau was a work camp, not an extermination camp. People seem to sometimes think that all concentration camps were death camps and this is simply not true. Because Dachau was a work camp and not an extermination camp it was actually one of the more “desirable” camps to go to. It feels very wrong to say that, but it was true. It was originally built to house 6,000 prisoners, but upon liberation in 1945, 32,000 people were found there. That gives you an idea of just how crowded these camps were.
The barracks buildings are all outlined on the grounds.
There were originally 34 barracks buildings on the grounds. None of them still stand today, but one has been reconstructed so that visitors can see what it was like. The rooms were crowded and filled with bunk beds. There were common toilet areas which also seemed crowded. The sinks and toilets pictured are original.
On the grounds are many religious memorials: Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, and Russian Orthodox buildings all stand. They are great places to pay your respects to those who have passed away.
Russian Orthodox Memorial
The guard towers and barbed wire fences still stand. Signs still stand that once told the prisoners to not move past a certain point or they would be shot. Many people committed suicide by running past that point because death seemed better than the hell they were going through. I can’t blame them.
At Dachau you can also visit the crematorium and gas chamber. We first looked at the old crematorium which housed two ovens.
Because so many people were dying at Dachau they needed more ways to cremate the bodies. Eventually, a new crematorium was built along with disinfection rooms and gas chambers.
Side entrance to disinfection rooms.
The new crematorium housed 4 ovens with a double oven, which apparently was a big deal at the time.
The rafters in the crematorium. SS soldiers would occasionally hang prisoners here. You can still see the rope marks.
Here is the entry to the gas chamber. It was disguised as a shower room. Drains are in the floors and shower heads were in the ceiling. Unfortunately all of the shower heads have been stolen, but you can still see where they once were. Prisoners would have been told to take off their clothes so that they could be disinfected and to then take a shower. The prisoners happily did this because I’m sure they were excited to have a proper shower and clean clothing. They would get a lot of people in the “shower room”, lock the door, and then gas them.
Entrance to the gas chamber.
Where the shower heads once were
The gas chambers at Dachau are actually quite controversial, believe it or not. The publications at Dachau say that the gas chamber was never used. However, prisoners who were held at Dachau have said that they were definitely used. I don’t know why there is such a discrepancy here. If they weren’t used why have them? Why have such a thorough explanation of how the gas chambers worked at Dachau if they were never tested? I’ve actually done quite a bit of research on this since visiting Dachau and my conclusion is that the gas chambers were used. Maybe not a lot, but they were used. Dachau was the place where SS soldiers would train before going to other concentration camps; camps where gas chambers were used frequently. I’d imagine that the gas chamber was used to train these soldiers. I’d bet that at least once during 12 years of training that the gas chamber was used on prisoners. I don’t know why multiple prisoners from Dachau would lie about them being used. I do know why the Nazi party would lie and try to cover up their tracks, though.
Pictured above are the disinfection rooms. Here prisoners would take off their clothing before entering into the gas chambers. They were told that their clothing would be disinfected while they showered. According to the literature at Dachau these rooms were used, despite them saying the gas chamber wasn’t. Seems a little inconsistent to me. The only thing I can think of is that these rooms were used to disinfect the clothing of the dead so that the clothing could be reused.
Behind the crematoriums is a little trail.
Here you can see where the guards would line up prisoners and shoot them execution style against this wall.
There are also these signs all over the trail marking the resting place of ashes.
At the end of the trail is this memorial called “The Unknown Prisoner”. The sign reads “To honor the dead, To warn the living”. All in all, 206,206 people passed through Dachau and 31,951 people died at Dachau over 12 years.
This sculpture is in front of the SS Headquarters building. The sculpture is made to resemble two things: First, it resembles skeletal bodies which is representative of the state that many prisoners were found in, and second, it resembles a barbed wire fence and fence posts which kept the prisoners inside the camp.
The last thing we toured while at Dachau was the office building for the high ranking SS Soldiers. This building is still standing because it was made of concrete.
Overall Dachau was a good experience. Despite many of the buildings being destroyed after the war we were still able to see and learn a lot.