While in Munich, I went to go tour the Dachau Concentration Camp. Dachau is about a 15 minute train ride from Munich and was the first and longest operating concentration camp. It opened in 1933, right after the Nazis came to power and it housed a little over 200,000 people in its history.
Nothing can really prepare you for seeing a concentration camp in person. The gates leading into the camp have the words "Arbeit Mach Frei" which translates to "Work Will Set You Free." We walked through that gate and into the camp. There is a big gravel area that was used for the prisoners to assemble each day for the count, a large administration building, and two barracks. All of the braacks were torn down by the German government in the 1960s and so there are two that have been rebuilt to give people an idea of how they would have looked.
We began the tour in the administration building where they processed the prisoners. There were all kinds of displays about the brutality and the mistreatment of the people. I really could not get over how something like this happens. There were deiplays that showed how the camp was seen by the twon and outsiders to demonstrate that most German citizens and especially the citizens of Dachau were very aware of what was going on there.
From there we went to the bunker, which was a low building with small cells. This was where the Gestapo held special prisoners. One of these was Georg Elser. Elser was arrested after his failed attempt to assassinate Hitler with a bomb in Munich. He was kept alive and well fed at Dachau so that he could be publically executed by the Nazis after the war.
This whole time I had a surreal feeling and was just trying to take it all in. After all of this our guide took us to see the camps gas chamber and the crematorium. The crematorium was unnerving. There were two different ones each with about 3 ovens in them. It was simply shocking. Then we were taken into the gas chamber. I dont think I have ever felt that uneasy. The place was simply creepy. They only had a small light in one corner and so it was a dark room with a low ceiling. We could look up and no more than 4 inches from our heads were the nozzles where gas would come out.
While Dachau is notorious and was certainly not easy on its prisoners, it was not known for being a death camp per se. The guide told us that the gas chamber was only used once to kill people but there are no records of who they were or why it was done.
The whole experience was like a punch to the stomach but it was a very important one. You really cannot get a feel for what the camps were like by simply reading about it or looking at pictures.