One Somber Wednesday…

2 Sep

One of the things I love about my best friend, Sam, is her ability to be ‘moved.’  Not physically, but emotionally…She can see something or hear something and visibly be affected by it, brought to tears in either joy or despair.  This is one area where we differ. While I’m definitely considered an ’emotional’ person when it comes to relationships, people, animals, etc., very few inanimate objects actually ‘move’ me.  In fact, I could probably count on one hand the times this has happened to me- the sight of the Eiffel Tower twinkling on the hour at night, the morning I watched the World Trade Center Towers crumble…and as of yesterday, Dachau (pronounced Dock-ow), Germany’s first Nazi concentration camp.  There are no words to express the range of emotions I felt…

On March 22, 1933, a few weeks after Adolf Hitler had been appointed Reich Chancellor, a concentration camp for political prisoners was set up on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory near the medieval town of Dachau. The camp served as a model for all later concentration camps and as a “school of violence” for the SS men under whose command it stood. In the twelve years of its existence, over 200,000 people from all over Europe were imprisoned there.  Nearly 50,000 were murdered. On April 29 1945, American troops liberated the survivors.

Walking the road to Dachau...It's so serene...

Prison Gate. Last 'free' steps that many, many prisoners ever took...

The iron gate, translated 'Work Brings Freedom,' at the entrance through the gatehouse into the prison compound is the original gate, built by a prisoner named Karl Röder.

The main ‘camp’ is a giant rectangle, surrounded by several ‘layers’ of fences and ditches.  Built into the outermost wall are seven watch towers, which were manned 24/7 with several SS guards each, prepared to shoot (kill) any prisoner trying to escape.

Watch tower built into the outermost wall. Within the perimeter was a canal, a ditch and several barbed wire smaller fences.

Closer view of the perimeter...No escapee would've stood a chance...

After passing through the entrance gate and observing the perimeter with watch towers, you find yourself in the middle of the ‘Roll Call Deck,’ where all prisoners assumed formation (standing rigid and at attention) every morning and every night, regardless of the elements.  Under the best of circumstances, this process would take just over an hour.  However, if just one prisoner was unaccounted for- even if one was too ill to stand and was simply slumped on the ground and thus, not visible to the SS guard in charge of counting- this process could take upwards to four hours.

Roll Call Deck...First sight when walking through the gate. Barracks are on the left, bunker on the right.

From the opposite side of the Roll Call Deck...the red roofed building is the entry gate I just walked through.

Roll Call Deck, looking to the left at the bunker, now used as an educational museum. My next stop...

The building above, the bunker, was a ‘communal building.’  It contained the showers, the laundry facilities and the kitchen.  This was the first stop when prisoners arrived at Dachau- entering at the west (far right) end, then moving like an assembly line through the building to exit at the east (far left) end.  Today, the bunker houses the Dachau museum with artifacts, pictures, videos, etc.  By the time I reached the east end of the exhibits, I had to step outside for some air…to take a deep breath…

Some pictures from inside the bunker/museum…

Original desk, built by prisoners in the carpentry room. Paint above reads, 'No Smoking.'

The showers. Incoming prisoners were stripped naked, all body hair shaved, doused in disinfectant and rinsed...

Ceiling of the Shower Room...You can see where poles ran between the archways. Here, prisoners were hung by chain from their wrists and beaten.

Bronze memorial statue...

Original whipping board. Naked prisoners would have to kneel on the righthand step, leaning over the platform to receive 'licks' (minimum of 30) with the bullwhip.

Identification system. Each prisoner wore an 'inmate number,' a color above to denote ethnicity and a color/shape below to denote anything 'extraordinary.' The pink triangle meant homosexual.

Leaving the bunker, inmates would then cross the Roll Call Deck into the barracks area.  There were about 30 barracks- 15 down each side of a ‘road’ lined with poplar trees.

Looking across from the bunker toward the barracks...

All but the first two barracks were destroyed, so today, all that remains are the gravel foundations where they once stood.

The barracks were on either side of the poplar trees. The first few barracks on the righthand side were considered the 'Infirmary,' where cruel experimentations were carried out.

Picture of a picture, just to show how it once looked...

What's left today of each barrack...

Going into the remaining barrack...

Each barrack had three ‘rooms:’ the dormitory, the bathroom and a day room.  Each barrack was built to accommodate 150 people.  When the camp was liberated in 1945, each barrack held more than 2000 prisoners.

Dormitory. Bunk beds stacked three high. Each 'bed' (small box- I couldn't have laid flat, just to give you an idea of length) had a straw sack as a 'mattress.'

Other side of the dormitory...


Day Room- benches and a table. Basically, a communal area at the end of dormitory, though rarely did any prisoners have time to use such a space.

Behind the barracks, at the rear of the camp, there are now three religious memorials.  Built in the early 1960s, these are intended to honor all prisoners- both victims and survivors- of Dachau.

This was on the side of the Christian monument...

Just outside of the perimeter wall, in the back left corner of the camp, is the entrance to the crematorium area.  Here, there are two buildings- the old, small crematorium and the second, large crematorium, built when the body count rose so high that the smaller one could not keep up.  The large one also has the gas chamber.

Original crematorium, built in the early 1930s.

Four ovens inside...each could hold 2-3 bodies.

The second, larger crematorium, built in the early 1940s. The right end held the ovens, the middle was the gas chamber and the far left was the 'disinfectant bay' for clothing.

When prisoners were led to the gas chamber, they would enter into the door just left of center, where they would be told to strip naked as they would be taking a shower.  Excited to bathe, they walked into the ‘showers,’ even outfitted with fake shower heads so as ‘not to cause a problem’ before all were inside and the door was shut.

Entering the 'showers.'

Once the door was sealed, SS guards would pump gas into the chamber and watch through peep holes (you can see one in the far right of the picture above) until everyone was dead.  After the bodies were removed, the room was hosed down (there were faucets built into the wall) and ready for the next group.

The 'Showers...'

The bodies were then piled in a ‘holding room’ until they could be burned and the ashes thrown outside.

'Holding Room' for the bodies.

Large crematorium's ovens. Each could hold 3-5 bodies. All were connected with an underground chimney system.

All clothes were put into 'disinfectant bays' to be recycled back into use.

Behind the crematoriums, you can still see the ‘execution walls’ where SS guards would line up prisoners, facing away from them, to execute them with a single shot to the base of the skull.

Execution wall (mostly overgrown now)...You can't see it, but there is 'blood ditch' in front of the wall...

The last thing I saw during my visit to Dachau was the ‘universal grave’- a memorial and a tribute to all of the prisoners there. There are no words to describe this experience for me…At this very moment, as I share these pictures and these thoughts, I find myself ‘moved’ again.  It was definitely a somber Wednesday…

Goodbye, Dachau.

2 Responses to “One Somber Wednesday…”

  1. Tim September 3, 2010 at 3:18 PM #

    I am sad, my friend, that you experienced that horror first hand, yet glad that you saw the historical remnants of what can happen when pure evil is allowed to grow. I fear that many generations have begun to forget what my Dad, and many others, fought to rid the world of. What’s even scarier is that there is still radical, extremism out there, and I think it too is being allowed to grow. Hopefully we’ll figure that out too. Hang tough. You are in my thoughts.

  2. Margaret September 3, 2010 at 1:15 AM #

    May the world never forget the horror that happened there.

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