Warning: This is not an ‘upbeat’ travel tale.
Deep in upper Bavaria is the unassuming German town of Dachau. Unfortunately, it’s only claim to fame is its international notoriety for the concentration camp set up in the east of the city that was responsible for about 32,000 documented deaths during the Second World War. Thousands more were undocumented.
Visiting Dachau was a heart-breaking experience. As you enter, the sterility hits you and it seems that the starkness has been cultivated on purpose, to convey and hide the horrors that occurred here. But, after a minute walking around you’ll feel it. It’s hard to escape the intensely sad feeling that settles over you, mostly because of the combination of a weird melancholic energy that lays low and heavy over everything. Add to that the deathly stillness and silence that everyone who visits seems to immerse themselves in and you’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head with imagining what it feels like to walk around here.
The shock begins from the gate itself as we imagine all ‘workers’ passing through these gates saw these words ‘Work will set you free’ also loosely translated as ‘Virtue through labour.’ The incredible lies that bound these spaces of incarceration together still resonate throughout politics today, perpetrated by politicians of all race, creed, colour. The stark reminder lies here for us all. History is doomed to repeat itself. Politicians still lie. We have not learned the lessons, only how to cover them up better.
The eeriness spread across the camp is magnified by the exhibitions inside one covered space which outlines a narrative history of this death camp.
As I read through the narrative, I found myself stopping only towards the end when I started reading through a few of the explanations of photographs of the scientific experiments that were carried out on inmates. There were stress experiments on people to test the extreme effects of hypothermia and ways to revive as well as high altitude experiments to test affects and potential ways of recovering from unconsciousness. The prints said that the original documentation was burned or lost after the Nazis heard the Allies were coming for them.
Walking around the camp, we saw the dormitories where we learn that inmates slept five or six to a bunk with barely a blanket to cover them.
The worst thing to see at Dachau is these chimneys which one could easily walk past without realising they were a part of the furnace that incinerated the bodies of those inmates who were killed in gas chambers and then piled into furnaces to be incinerated.
While the preservation of these camps seeks to keep alive in our memories the atrocities that human beings can rain down upon their own species, the hope in creating this ‘museum’ was that we would learn the lessons and pass them down through generations.
The harsh reality of our lives today is that genocide is alive and thrives in countries across the world. There are no memorials for their dead. Have we not yet learned the lessons? Obviously not. In some countries, those who have perpetrated genocide through complicity and other means are still handed power and have been handed power time and again across the world. Like the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia under Pol Pot in the 1970s which wiped out at least a quarter of the Cambodian population. Think Rwanda 1994. And of course, most recently, the ongoing mass genocide of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people in Myanmar which is continuing to shock people across the world as visual images of the atrocities perpetrated by its regime are starting to be released.
And so it continues.
Visited in 2009