How do you begin to share and describe a visit to such a solemn, historical place?
While many of the original structures have been torn down, some remain, and some replicas have been constructed to show where and how the Jews lived who were imprisoned here during WWII.
For those who do not know, here is a brief history of Dachau.
Dachau first opened March 22, 1933. It was created by Adolf Hitler to serve as a concentration camp for political prisoners. It then served as the model for all other concentration camps that arose throughout the course of WWII. During the 12 years that Dachau was operational, it imprisoned over 200,000 people from all over Europe. There are 41,500 deaths recorded here. On April 29, 1945, American troops liberated the camp.
Visiting Dachau is not for the faint of heart. There is still an eerie, overwhelming feel of death surrounding the camp, even 70+ years since it was liberated. Nothing can truly prepare you for walking on this hallowed ground. As you approach, you first see the remains of the railroad tracks that brought trains full of men, women, and children to this dreadful place. As you continue walking, you continue to the Jourhaus gates, where you read “Arbeit macht frei” or “work sets you free.”
Immediately inside the Jourhaus gates is the assembly square where the Jews and other prisoners gathered multiple times a day for role call and assemblies.
All that is left of the original barracks is the concrete foundations. Our tour of Dachau included visiting the Crematorium and Building X. Inside the Maintenance Building, there is a museum that houses photos, and personal effects of many who were housed at Dachau during the 12 years that it was open.
The one thing that struck me most, was realizing as I walked through the Jourhaus gates, I was able to walk right back out. However, that was not the case for the hundreds of thousands who walked through those gates during Hitler’s regime. Walking on the grounds, and imagining the lives of those who were imprisoned here, and also hearing and reading their stories is one of the most solemnizing things I have ever experienced. Learning about concentration camps, reading books, watching movies… nothing can prepare you emotionally for actually walking there, breathing the air, seeing the buildings, walking through the gates. I will never understand how Hitler and his followers did what they did, and how they held no value for human life. Visiting Dachau only opened my eyes even more to the horrors that went on in these awful places.