Last Updated on April 30, 2021
Dachau, 1933 – 1945, will stand for all time as one of history’s most gruesome symbols of inhumanity. There our troops found sights, sounds and stenches beyond belief, cruelties so enormous as to be incomprehensible to the normal mind. Dachau and death were synonymous. – William W. Quinn, 7th US Army
Dachau was one of the first concentration camps established by the Nazis and was located in the small town of Dachau, approximately 10 miles northwest of Munich. The site was previously an empty gunpowder factory from World War One, making the land ideal for the establishment of a camp. The camp opened on March 22, 1933 and was one of the first installations in the Third Reich’s vast network of concentration and forced labor camps throughout Germany and Nazi-operated countries.
Dachau was a camp primarily for men – anyone considered to be an “enemy of the state”: communists, common criminals, homosexuals, spies, resistance fighters, social democrats. It was not a death camp for the genocide of the Jews, even though there were Jewish prisoners at Dachau.
We boarded the train towards Dachau, not realizing until we were walking around the grounds that 70 years ago, a different type of train was transporting people to Dachau; those people would become prisoners. We were willingly going to Dachau to learn more about what exactly happened. Back then, you wouldn’t buy a ticket for such a train. You did not want to go where those trains would lead.
Walking through Dachau was difficult. There are a million other ways to describe how difficult it was, but that is just it. It is hard, if not impossible, to describe the range of emotions that overcome you as you wander, observe and have the information sink in. You are emotionally ripped apart, left only to feel numb.
Originally set up to contain 5,000 prisoners, the camp held as many as 12,000 prisoners at its peak in 1944. In it’s 12 year run, the camp imprisoned 206,000 people and 32,000 were killed or died there. Walking through the main giant iron gates, “Arbeit Macht Frei” is inscribed, which translates to “work makes you free.” This was definitely far from the truth.
As you walk the grounds, you will find two of the 30 huts still standing. We took a walk through one of them to see what life would have been like and you get a glimpse that you will wish you hadn’t. You see how small the bunks were, with more than one man per bunk, the shower area, toilets. On site are also a few memorials setup to remember and give tribute to all those that lost their lives and suffered.
Dachau is a name that will be forever associated with Nazi atrocities and the Holocaust.
We took this tour of Dachau with Sandeman’s New Europe Tours, one of the best tour companies we have used. The guide was amazing and absolutely knew his stuff. He was so passionate, spoke with such conviction, made sure everyone understood the true significance of what had happened and was really able to go into great detail about the Concentration Camp.
“Everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedom — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way” – Viktor Frankl, Mans Search for Meaning, Concentration camp survivor and Dachau prisoner.
Have you ever visited a Concentration Camp? What were your thoughts and feelings?