Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Day of Rememberance and Reflection...Visiting Dachau

The next morning we left Munich and were surprised by our tour manager when he informed us that before leaving Munich and heading to our next destination, we were going to stop at a very special place- Dachau Concentration Camp. Dachau is located 10 miles from Munich and was the first concentration camp established by the Nazi Party. Dachau was created to be a camp for political prisoners and served as the prototype for all other concentration camps that were established. In total, Dachau became the home for 200,000 prisoners. Of the 200,000 two-thirds were political prisoners and one third were Jews. This concentration camp was mainly used as a work camp, but over 35,000 people are thought to have died at Dachau from either disease, malnutrition, or in the crematorium.
Today, Dachau is open for the public to come and visit and is meant to be a place where people can learn, can remember, and can begin to understand in a small way the horrors of what occurred in concentration camps throughout Europe not that long ago. For most of us, we grow up learning the history of concentration camp and learn about the horrors through our textbooks, but nothing can compare and nothing can really begin to make you understand until you have walked on the ground that hundreds of thousands of prisoners walked on and see the conditions they were forced to live in.

When visiting Dachau the camp is now split up into what I see as four different sections. When you first enter into the camp a museum has been produced in several of the buildings that explains the history of the rise of the Nazi party, the formation of Dachau and talks about the different prisoners that were held in the camp. This is a very informative museum, but if you are stretched for time when visiting you may want to skip the museum. The second part of the camp today are the barracks. You can walk into the barracks and see how they were when prisoners were at the camp. When you go to the barracks think about how many people had to share these living spaces and think about the sanitation in the barracks. Throughout the barracks are signs with facts and quotes about the camp and about the experience living in the camp. The third part of the camp today are the religious houses and churches that are located in the back of the camp. These are beautiful buildings in a horrid place. The last part of the camp is the area that will cause an emotional experience for anyone who visits- the crematorium. This is where prisoners were burned after death and where some people were killed. At the crematorium is a sign that reads "think about how we died here." You cannot escape the reality of the horrors that occurred in this place when you visit the crematorium. You are forced to think about the imprisonment and forced to think about the mass killing that occurred where you are standing.

Like the Anne Frank house, I believe Dachau is an important place to visit in you are in Munich, however, like the Anne Frank house, I would ask that you only go to this place if you can be serious and if you are willing to experience emotions that you have never felt before. You will be walking on ground where people died and out of respect for those who were killed at Dachau it is important that you be mature and serious when visiting. What was so difficult for me visiting Dachau was knowing that people were imprisoned there for years and were dying there and the world sat back and let it happen. It breaks my heart and I cannot fully explain what the impact of visiting Dachau was for me. It is a place where you are forced to remember and reflect, but it is also a place of hope because as people continue to visit and learn and hope arises that this will never, ever happen again.

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