Thursday, November 20, 2003

A Somber and Disturbing Place

I had to visit this place before I left Munich. I did not seek it out because of its beauty or popularity. It surely was not a festive place like the Hofbrau Haus, it was not a feast for the eyes like Neuschwanstein, yet I was still drawn to it. I wanted to see it, I wanted to know it, and I wanted it to have never happened. The place was Dachau Concentration Camp.

Located in a nearby suburb of Munich, sits the town that will never escape from the imagery that is conjured when people say its name. Dachau is a quaint and neat town, but the atrocities that were carried out on its outskirts during World War II will haunt it and the world forever. Over 66,000 people lost their lives within the barbed wire confines of the camp.

Dachau was the first concentration camp established by the Nazis, but unfortunately it was not the last. Although technically considered a Work Camp for political and social prisoners, while other such facilities such as Auschwitz were considered Extermination Camps, Dachau’s legacy of death will forever leave a sickening mark on mankind’s existence. In this demented and evil school of thought, the camp was considered a model from which other camps aspired and were measured.

The front gates of Dachau make an empty promise to those that passed before it on their way to internment. In German, the words translate into the phrase “Work will set you free”. For far too many, the only freedom they ultimately found from this hell on earth was their own passing, which in almost all circumstances was slow and agonizing. Prisoners were forced to endure beatings by the SS guards who managed the camp through fear and intimidation. Inmates were forced to work incredibly long hours performing physical labor or assembling munitions for the war effort. Yet the most tortuous of all acts was the fact that inmates were given little to no food with any substantial nutritional value to sustain them. What this meant was that these prisoners were slowly being killed by starvation and malnutrition.

The camp to this day is surrounded by watchtowers and fences of barbed wire. One prisoner housing quarters remains, whereas the foundations for 32 more lay as markers to the scale and enormity of the crowds of men who were held here against their will. Within the housing quarters, bunk beds were stacked three high with little more than straw as their makeshift mattresses. Space was incredibly cramped as more and more prisoners were added to the population. Upwards of one thousand men could be jammed into a single structure that was built to hold 300.

Death was a common occurrence at Dachau because of these inhumane conditions. A large crematorium was constructed to deal with the ever mounting tally of the dead. Within this building were four furnaces that incinerated the bodies. Also within the structure laid the most sinister of all facilities. Even though it was never used, the Dachau Crematorium was installed with a fully functioning gas chamber. The entrance to the room, like that of the hopeful promise on the front gates, misled people by stating the word “shower” over the entrance. The process would then include locking the door behind the prisoners, but instead of water the spickets would emit lethal gas killing all inside. The fact that this gas chamber was operational but never used does not excuse its creation or the pure evil that was behind its purpose.

Dachau is a chilling place when one thinks of the heartless crimes that were perpetrated there. People like to repeat the mantra “Never Forget”, but it seems the world has already forgotten at times. I left this horrible place with a crystal clear focus on what is good and what is bad. And I know plainly well who is good and who is bad. It boggles my mind today how there is any question of what is right and what is wrong. Need every person who wants to ignore the blatant murders that were perpetrated in Northern and Southern Iraq against fellow Iraqis come to Dachau and see the result of appeasement on those lost souls who were mercilessly killed by fellow Germans. The world does not have time for another installment or the creation of a modern day chapter that will help us realize the evils that are abound. The world already has one Dachau, and I believe that is enough.


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