Monday, December 9, 2013

Dachau Concentration Camp, near Munich, Germany

Visiting a concentration camp is never fun. It is sad, disturbing and heart breaking. However, I am still glad I have been able to visit one. This was our second time visiting Dachau. It is near Munich and it is about 2 hours from our house. The last time we were able to visit was before Trip was born. On July 1, 2011 we visited with Sam's dad and brothers. Click here for some different photos and the post on our first experience at Dachau.

The first time I visited, I left in tears. This time I ended up outside with our children most of the time. (Their running around, laughing and screaming didn't quite fit in with the atmosphere.) This visit was a bit easier, emotionally for me (since my focus was on the kids), But still hard.

Dachau was the first concentration camp in Germany and it was set up to be a place for political prisoners. It opened in 1933 and was liberated in 1945. It is one of the smaller concentration camps but still there were over 32,000 documented deaths during the time it was in "operation." It was one of the smaller camps. Much smaller than say, Auschwitz, in Poland.

After the liberation, the camp was still used for various things including a US military base. It was officially closed in 1960 and now there a number of religious memorials inside. Different areas were rebuilt or preserved so visitors could come and learn about what happened inside the camp.

"Arbeit Macht Frei" or "Work Will Make You Free"
That is the phrase on the entrance gates.

A memorial put up in 1997.

Prisoner barracks in 1945
Where the barracks were located. They have one set of barracks rebuilt. You can walk through and see what their sleeping arrangements and other facilities looked like.

I'm serious, it is hard to smile when you are on such hallowed ground. (Is hallowed the right word?)  It is a very erie, and a super sad feeling being there.

A religious memorial.

The grounds are so incredibly beautiful. It is almost unfathomable that such terrible things happened here.

Walking down into a religious memorial.

I know. It is sickening. Who could ever do this?
Group photo. We tried to get one group photo of us at each place we visited while my parents were with us.
"Unknown Inmate" by Fritz Koelle
The man that made this statue was apparently an inmate at Dachau. The inscription says, "To honor the dead, to admonish the living." After doing a bit of research, I think I learned the meaning of the statue. The man in the statue is standing there casually. His feet are pointing in random directions, he is slumped a bit in stature, his hands are in his pockets, his head is up and slightly turned. These are things we can do whenever we want, but a prisoner in Dachau Concentration Camp could have been killed or tortured for standing this way. Do we take these freedoms for granted? Those imprisoned by the Nazis had their every move decided for them. Their simple freedoms were stripped.
Dead Corpses in a train. I am sorry to show such a disturbing picture. But this history is real and I think it is important that it isn't swept under the rug.
 Although there weren't enough happy endings at the end of WW2, there were a few.  I can hardly imagine what these people felt when they were liberated. After watching countless people die and being treated worse than any human, animal or living thing should ever be treated, they were freed. By US soldiers at that. I am so happy our country was able to step in. When the US soldiers walked through those gates at Dachau they changed many lives and provided a "happy ending" for some. They were free and it wouldn't have happened if America and her soldiers weren't willing and able to come over and help. It was a HUGE sacrifice. There were some extremely young boys apart of the rescue. Think of an 18 or 19 year old you know. Think of them being brave enough to face the Nazis. To invade a concentration camp full of evil murderers. It is truly INCREDIBLE that we had so many brave souls that were able to help liberate people at this camp and other camps across Europe. I can't help but cry just thinking about it.
Both this picture and the picture of the women above are groups after they were liberated.

Here are some staggering numbers for you to ponder. The Nazis invaded many countries and killed many people, not just their own. (Obviously. But, I didn't realize just how much actually happened outside of Germany. And just how bad it was.) They stripped them of all that was important to them. At one point after an invasion in France they stole 26,000 railroad cars full of art, treasure, furniture and anything of value. They broke up families, killed babies and children. You name it, they did it. They stole family history items, family pictures… everything. They messed up a lot of history. They really screwed things up in Europe. 

These numbers are for Germans alone at the end of WW2. They estimated 5.5 to 6.9 million people killed by the end of the war. 70% of Germany's infrastructure was destroyed.

At the end of the war Europe had more than 40 million refugees. 

Over 400,000 people were sterilized (so they couldn't have children anymore) against their will.

Human medical experiments were so extensive it is disgusting. I don't think there are even words to describe just how disgusting and messed up it really was. People were frozen, their eyes were injected to see if it was possible to change their eye colors, they were put in pressure chambers, shot up with drugs and medicine, put through surgeries, had limbs amputated and many, many other horrible things. A lot of it was done to children.

When the US soldiers entered the camp on liberation day, they didn't know what they would find. They had heard rumors of things going on, but most didn't know how extensive the devastation was. I read of a young German girl about 17 or 18 who lived in the city of Dachau and didn't know what was going on at the camp. She started to wonder because of the smells coming from the area. Once it was revealed, many US soldiers wanted to spread the word to be sure it was not forgotten. There was a US Army General Ike who (through President Eisenhower) insisted people from all over come and see what had taken place with their own eyes. 

I know this is an unsettling subject. Sometimes I wonder if it is worth thinking about. It causes me pain and discomfort to think about it and to learn what happened. I don't know what the answer is. But, I do know it makes me more grateful for what I have. It makes me realize my small inconveniences and "trials" really aren't trials at all. They are a cake walk compared to what other human beings have been through. The sad thing is, a lot of this same type of stuff is still happening in other countries today. Not to the same extent but it is terrible.

Especially at this time of year when we have so much to be grateful for… let us not forget our blessings. Let us not forget the sacrifices and hardships of others. Let us be kind and loving. Let us remember our worth and the worth of ALL those around us. 

No more sad posts in December. I promise!

1 comment:

  1. I grew up going to a prominently Jewish school in Southern Florida. The WWII and specifically the Holocaust is near and dear to my heart. I wrote many papers on The subject, read many books. I have always wanted to go visit the meuseums, and I have been to the one in DC. Thank you for posting this heart felt article.