Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial

Guatemala Mission Trips                      Australia New Zealand Cruise March 2010

         John Knox Mission Trips           

       Nicaragua Mission Trip Nov. 2011

London to New York Transatlantic Sept. 2009                         Europe August 2010


    2010 marks the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the most Nazi concentration camps in the closing months of the Second World War.  All over an exhausted Europe, advancing Allied soldiers set free the desperate survivors of camp after camp.  The diseased, the starving, the barely alive emerged to tell a shocked and disbelieving world of the full horror of a network of systematized murder, torture, degradation and exploitation that had first been conceived and set in motion 12 years earlier in 1933 in a sleepy little town about 18 km from Munich.
    Of the many picturesque medieval towns and villages that lie on the outskirts of Munich, Dachau is one of the prettiest. Just outside that town centre can today be found enduring testimony to the evil that was born among the rustic charm, where a Memorial Site stands on the grounds of the former concentration camp.
    Dachau was the “parent” camp.  It was the “Academy of Terror”, the originator, role model, the epicentre and training ground for the vast order of brutality that spread over half of Europe in the wake of the armies of the Third Reich, and which ultimately culminated in history’s greatest crime: the “Final Solution.”
    Heinrich Hemmler had lived in Dachau, and he requested to be in charge of the concentration camp when it was being closed in 1932 due to the chaos caused by all the camps being run by different powers.  Greed, money, power, and racism were the core of the concentration camps, which originally had started with only victimizing the political enemies of the Third Reich.  
       As the political enemy population thinned, the Germans had to find new prisoners/workers, and they chose the Jews. Hemmler personally was obsessed with pure vs. impure blood, and was consumed with the need to fill the camps with the impure blood. Theodor Eicher had targeted 17-19 year olds for his Secret Service, brainwashing them in their training.
    Dachau became the training site for the Secret Service and other concentration camps.  Soldiers were taught to degrade, torment, humiliate, terrorize, and never smile at prisoners, who became slaves, cleaning the ground and even picking dead leaves off trees.  Barrack floors were polished three times daily. It was an inhumanely sterile environment. Prisoners with shaved heads learned quickly to cower, bow their heads, never make eye contact, glue their hands to their sides, and huddle together in rigid terror (above, left).  One’s life could end instantly because of a missing button or a spot of dust on the floor.
    In 1936, Hemmler achieved total control of Dachau, forcing the prisoners to build the complex out of an old ammunitions factory. On December 7, 1941, he stopped killing the prisoners and instead made them make arms and dig trenches.  By 1943, he had become totally successful at that.
    While each camp was responsible for its own particular form of barbarism, what distinguished Dachau is that almost everything that happened in the system as a whole had happened at some level at Dachau.  
    There, human medical experiments had been conducted.  To there, Soviet prisoners had been sent to be mown down in mass executions.  From there, Jewish prisoners had been transported to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.  Auschwitz was Dachau in a more refined, polished version. 
    Almost every category of victim passed through its infamous Arbeit macht frei (“Freedom from Work”) gate: German dissidents, “anti-socials” (they wore the black triangles), Sinti and Roma gypsies, outspoken clergymen, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, felons, immigrants, Jews, Polish civilians - all in all, citizens of some 34 nations. 
    There was a black market among the prisoners.  A guard might pay 3 cigarettes to a prisoner to kill another one.  A prisoner might trade rations to replace a missing button.
      In the summer of 1941, Hitler “officially” called off euthanasia, but its practice simply moved more to the east of Germany; all the soldiers at the concentration camps couldn’t lose their jobs.
    Germany as a state got worse under Hitler’s rule; he spent way too much money on the war and in his belief that “hard work” might change them into “Good Germans.”
    After the liberation, Dachau served as a refugee camp for displaced Germans.  The first war crimes trials were also held at Dachau, more extensive than the ones at Nurembourg.
    The Main Gate and the Gas Chamber survived the war and the after-war intact.  All other buildings at the site have been restored to varying degrees.
    Today’s Memorial Site combines the historical authenticity of the original environment and its many surviving buildings with the function of a modern exhibition centre.  
    It exists because the survivors fought to not have it totally destroyed.  
    It is a place of memory, of pilgrimage, and of education. To visit it can be a challenging, deeply moving, memorable experience.
“We will always remember how we died.”

Every prisoner passed through the “Freedom from Work” Gate (above), whether they had come by foot, bus, or train. Between the two iron grill gates is the plaque below.

And the moment that I stepped from this gate into the open yard below, I was instantly flashed back to scenes from Schindler’s List, feeling the sheer terror of being another innocent victim of a sniper guard, killing just because he could.

Below, only 2 of the 34 prisoner barracks remain intact; the somber foundations and numbers of the other 32 remain.

Prisoners wore triangles of colors to identify why they were in the camp; the lines above the  triangles served to indicate that they were repeat offenders.

This is the registration desk where the prisoners were stripped of their clothes, their hair and their dignity. Prisoners were constantly moved from camp to camp, but here at Dachau, 70% were gassed and 30% were slaves.

The Allied Forces liberated 32,000 here; only 1/5 were Jewish, many were Catholic.

Every morning started with the prisoners being herded into this open area, where they had to shout a patriotic song.  One could die for not singing it loud enough.

The large building below that now houses the exhibition center had been the kitchen, showers, and work rooms of the German soldiers.  It also housed the jail, for those prisoners accused of whatever unruly deed.

Every dot on that map below was a concentration camp.    There were 160 sub-camps to Dachau alone.  Carol’s pointing to Geissen, the army base at which he taught in 1963-4.

Pole hangings.

The monument to the unknown victim.  It reads, “May the manner of death be a constant reminder to the living.”  Notice the dramatic contrast of his posture to that of the prisoners in the group memorial sculpture (above left).  His posture alone states “We WILL survive.”

Above, soldiers would drop the gas pellets into these slots on the outside of the crematorium.  Below is what the victims on the inside saw.

Pregnancy and birth gave new hope to the prisoners.  The photo below tells the stories of where those babies are today, as well as the families they’ve created.  Their best revenge was to have large families.  They were the lucky ones, being in a sub-camp; normally, pregnant women were automatically gassed.

Below is the whipping trestle.  The standard number of lashings was 25, with the prisoner counting.  If he lost count, the guard would start over.

In the prison were the prisoners that were of some value to Hemmler, those who hadn’t fulfilled their duties, and/or those he simply wanted to torture or murder.

    I wanted to make sure that Steve’s  (our native Brit guide) translation of the above memorial was accurate, so I showed the Krematorium photo to the young Munich hotel clerk, asking him, “What does this say?”  He was physically taken aback, to the point of embarrassment; he looked shocked as he said, “You really want to know?”  “Yes, I was there today.” He told me the translation in red above, which indeed was quite different from Steve’s: “The dead are always a reminder to the living.”

    I’m glad I asked.  The accurate translation is much more powerful.

The Catholic Memorial

The Jewish Memorial

The Protestant Memorial

Opposite the bus stop as we leave; it needs no title or caption.

I was instructed to label this, “Just two handsome young men out on the town.”

This sculpture depicts how the prisoners learned to carry themselves, to survive another day of hell.