Dachau: The Remnants of Brutality
In primarily talking about the Death Camps of Nazi Germany this week, I thought it would be a good idea to turn towards the concentration camps for a little while. There were countless other people imprisoned in the concentration camps: political opponents of the Nazis, homosexuals, gypsies, and more. In the concentration camps, prisoners were subject to vast amounts of brutality including undeserved beatings and murders. Prisoners were forced to do grueling labor tasks and were often underfed and worked nearly to death. The concentration camps were places of extreme brutality where SS guards took pleasure in systematically tormenting, beating, and killing prisoners, often for no reason.
I would now like to share my own experience visiting Dachau. Established in 1933, the Dachau concentration camp was the first camp to be built. It served as the model for all further camps, both in design and guard behavior. Dachau housed a wide variety of prisoners, from Communists, Socialists, and other political opponents of the Nazis to Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roma (Gypsies), homosexuals, and any other asocials (1). Known for SS guard brutality, Dachau served as a sort of “school” for SS guard behavior in other camps.
Now, just imagine walking down a path through a small wooded area in a small town just outside of Munich. Birds are singing, the sun is shining, the wind blows softly through the trees. It seems like an ordinary stroll through the woods. Then, you approach a line of fencing and inscribed in the metal gate are the words: Arbeit Macht Frei. You have arrived at the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site.
In such a quiet and peaceful place, it is hard to imagine all the terrible things that happened here. Yet, the atmosphere inside the camp is solemn. There is no laughing, no smiling; everyone knows what happened here. The weight of the knowledge of Nazi atrocities weighs on your heart. Thousands upon thousands of human beings were the recipients of absolutely horrible treatments and so many perished on this very land. Words can barely describe what it is like to actually stand where such terrible acts occurred. I think that perhaps the sharing of a few pictures I took at Dachau may help illustrate what Dachau is like.
A view of the inside of one of the cells within the Bunker, which housed “special prisoners”
The hallway of the Bunker
The ovens in the crematorium, where the bodies of prisoners who had died were burned. The same building housed a “storage” room for prisoners’ bodies before they were burned and the gas chamber at Dachau. According the the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “There is no credible evidence that the gas chamber…was used to murder human beings. Instead, prisoners underwent “selection”; those who were judged too sick or weak to continue working were sent to the Hartheim “euthanasia” killing center near Linz, Austria.” (2)
Remnants of the fencing and guard towers.
The gate to Dachau with the words: Arbeit Macht Frei, “”work makes you free”.
Two prisoners’ accounts of life in the Bunker and at Dachau.
Several memorials dedicated to the victims of Nazi atrocities at Dachau.
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “Dachau.” Holocaust Encyclopedia. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005214 (accessed November 12, 2015)
- USHMM. Holocaust Encyclopedia
Image Sources: All images credited to Brigitta Kaiser, 2014