A disclaimer: My topic for today is incredibly heavy. I share some raw emotions and images, which I myself struggle to describe fully. If you are sensitive to topics relating to the Holocaust, I encourage you to read with caution. I also encourage you to use my blog as a way to discuss the horrors of our past, commemorate the victims, and most importantly never forget.
Recently, I’ve been thinking it would be nice to share some pictures of my travels in somewhat of a photo-essay style. The problem was: what topic would I choose? For a few weeks, I’d been considering sharing some of my pictures from my recent visit to Paris where I got to spend time with my lovely friends, Tatiana and Maxim. But while I had a beautiful experience in the City of Lights, it just didn’t quite feel right.
Then, when my new friends from Ireland, Kaleigh and Karen, suggested last week that we should go to Munich and the nearby Dachau Memorial, I realized a blog post would be a better medium for sharing my experience than simply adding my photos to my Facebook album. Living here in Konstanz, we’re only about three hours away from Munich, and the three of us quickly decided we needed to experience and commemorate this significant part of world history. We all agreed it would be a shame to not do so.
Happily, we were also joined by Christian and Katie B.
With the intention of honoring the memory of those who were imprisoned and/or killed at Dachau Concentration Camp(s), here are some images of the memorial so that we will never ever forget.
Upon entrance into the camp proper, we – like the thousands of prisoners before us – had to walk through a gate with the iconic phrase, “Arbeit macht frei” meaning, “Work sets you free.” The slogan was made famous by Dachau’s sister KZ (a German abbreviation for concentration camp) Auschwitz, but I was unsurprised to see it appear here also. It’s likely the empty promise appeared here first, as Dachau was the model for all other camps.
Dachau was established on March 22nd, 1933 weeks after Hitler assumed power and was liberated by two American Army Divisions on April 29th, 1945. I found it both fitting and sadly ironic that the liberators were honored with plaques so near the gate. They were able to free thousands, but what about the thousands who had already perished? What about them?!
So, it was with somber reflection that our group wandered the grounds for about four hours: standing in political prisoners’ cells, reading about their experiences, and trying to come to terms with the horrors which took place here.
Pictured above is the hallway of a barrack where political and religious prisoners, including attempted Hitler assassin, Georg Elser, as well as Catholic clergy and Jehovah’s Witnesses, were housed for months or even years. The barrack was also used for 72 hour standing punishments and horrific medical experimentations. This was one of two locations within the KZ that really had an emotional impact on me. Projected on the wall of one cell was a prisoner’s account of hearing a fellow prisoner be woken in the middle of the night and shot just outside the barrack. With his final statement, “Another life extinguished,” I just had to stand there for a moment in silence – breathing, accepting, and praying for peace.
Breathing and accepting became a lot harder later in the day when I wandered over to the Crematorium by myself. Though the educational plaques described the gas chamber, pictured on the right below, as being used more experimentally on small groups than the masses at Auschwitz, it was still murder. And I had this incredibly visceral feeling of loss and sadness when I walked inside. If you’ve ever lost someone, you probably know the feeling of not being able to breath: a tightness in your chest where something was once there but now is gone, leaving you feeling empty and broken. I felt broken. I also felt all those innocent lives with me.
They stayed with me, too, as I walked the beautifully kept pathways surrounding the building. Birds were chirping happily in the tall trees and the sun was shining brightly, dappling the forest floor with the shadows of the leaves. It all felt wrong. “How could the birds sing amid so much sadness?” I asked myself. Concurrently, I noted the beauty of the tiny forest was a perfect final resting place for some victims. A gravestone on the ground is pictured in the photo above, and it was one of many.
Elsewhere in the camp was my favorite gravestone dedicated to all the victims. “Never again” is written in Hebrew, French, English, German, and Russian to remember not only the political and religious prisoners, but also Sinti, Roma, Homosexuals, and “Asocials”.