PART ONE OF FOUR:
INTRODUCTION AND IN-PROCESSING BUILDINGS AND DISPLAYS
My very first visit to a former concentration camp was at Vught in the Netherlands before it had been cleaned up and opened as a memorial site (a cousin who worked at the current prison there took me to see it).
Just seeing the black ovens of the crematorium from a distance was enough for me. I depress easily. Since the former camp has opened as a memorial, an official website has been created with a link to many thousands of photos from all aspects of World War II in the Netherlands.
So why come to Dachau, which is much larger and a worse place in terms of death and horror? Because it was there. It was on the way from the airport at Munich to our destination at Hohenkammer, and it is where my fellow traveler (also) wanted to go.
I can see why the modern town of Dachau has mixed feelings over this memorial at their doorstep, but it is what it is-- because of what it was.
Modern Germans are as horrified at this piece of history as most of us are, and had as little to do with it as we did. There is a generation gap now between the Germans who were brainwashed and coerced into going along with this by their leadership, and those who came after. We ought not forget that. Modern Germans are a kind and helpful and caring people (for the most part, just like people everywhere else). They are very much like you and I.
But this camp and the general history of it does touch on some of my family's experience in an indirect way. My father was a policeman at the start of the war, and since he did not want any part of the searches carried out in his home town for Jews and dissidents, he smartly transferred to the Fire Department. There he did not have to do such searches, but to his surprise he was no longer excused from the draft.
The German army had a Dutch contingent, and it was obligatory for all able bodied men to join. He refused when asked to join, and was told he had two choices: volunteer for labor in Germany to aid the Aryan cause or watch his family be shot and then go into an involuntary labor camp, Vught no doubt, as a dissident.
So he volunteered for labor (slave labor, that is). His first assignment was horrible, even though he was a volunteer he was, with the others that included dissidents and Jews, treated badly, tormented with hot food and just a few seconds to eat it. There were beatings for failure to perform as expected, and men disappeared at night. He suspected the SS guards of the disappearances.
He said the SS took over the work camp while he was there and the whole mood of the camp changed. People would come and throw bread at them before, while they worked laying sewer pipe in a city, and after the SS took over the people were no longer able to come close enough to throw anything.
So after about 9 months or so he was given a week to come home. He was given a return train ticket and told that the train may be late, but if when it arrived he was not on it, a telegram would go out ordering his family shot. So after making sure my mother conceived me (something I appreciated in hindsight, but am not so sure my mother did at that time) he was back on the train. He told a fellow laborer on the train that he feared he would not live to see his family again.
This fellow laborer told him to come with him. He was a "volunteer" at a furniture factory that made specialty items for the German High Command, and the boss had many workers he requisitioned from other camps where things were very rough. He would be housed with a local family, and would eat well and work hard, but in good conditions.
My father expressed the fear of his family being shot if he was not on the next train he was to transfer to, so the other man said that they would get to his town before the other train arrived much farther away to the north, and his boss would telex the other camp saying he had requisitioned my father for his special skills. That he was needed to fill specialty furniture orders for the High Command.
That actually happened, hence I am alive. His special skills were taught to him at the factory and we became good friends with the people that housed him. Until after the war that is. They helped save my father, who was injured by a mistaken American air raid on this small town and its innocuous factory. That made us eligible, ten years later, to come to the US as refugees (a story told on the memorial page to my mother). These people put him on the last train to our hometown, before the border closed and the Americans were closing in.
He was sent home to die but my mother wouldn't let him, she nursed him back to health.
Ten years later when we went for our last visit with our German friends, they said they did not want anything to do with us anymore. Their son had been killed in action in the Gulf of Mexico, very near New Orleans, where his U-boat had been sunk. But that was not the problem. The problem was that their beautiful daughter, about 20 then, was gang-raped and killed by several American (US, not Canadian) soldiers who had just begun their occupation, and had caught her walking home from town. There were local witnesses but they were discounted as prejudiced, so it is an unsolved crime. One can understand why, to them, our going to America (the US) was unforgivable.
So, getting back to Dachau, I was very interested in the purpose this first concentration camp served in terms of teaching the SS members how to be cruel and violent toward what they considered to be the sub-humans under their charge.
Once trained in purposeful cruelty and controlled violence, they were sent out to other camps to institute this new order of systematic oppression. The aim was to achieve obedience and work output through metered-out violence. The aim was also to wok certain segments of the prison population to death, mainly the Jews.
Drawings and statements in displays showing that doctors, Hippocratic Oath and all, were part of the administration of violence and even death add a strange and even more unsettling touch to these accounts.
Of course doctors at Vught were involved in cutting healthy men's legs and arms off to see if they could be preserved and transported to then be sewn onto injured soldiers who had lost limbs on the front. The experiments failed, and the broken men were taken care of, but so poorly that most ended up in the ovens rather quickly.
That is enough of the macabre coming from my fingertips. The rest of this page is pictures of words and of pictures inside the memorial, with just a little more added where it seemed appropriate.
This is the entryway into the Dachau concentration camp. Its motto, "Arbeit Macht Frei," is translatable as Work Makes One Free. As long as one considered death as freedom, it was true.
Once through this gate, one has a choice of going to the in-processing buildings to the right or the barracks to the left. Here is a model of the camp when it was in use (only the first row of barracks has been rebuilt to serve as a memorial). The main entrance is to the left so that a right turn brings us to the official buildings and a left turn to the rows upon rows of barracks. The buildings to the left of the camp are part of the munitions factory where the Dachau inmates were forced to work:
Imagine yourself in this group of men about to enter the prison:
The buildings to the right of the main entrance are the processing buildings in which there were showers (real ones in this case, this was a slave labor camp) and places for torturing prisoners in the sight of other prisoners (terrorism is ineffective if carried out in secret). The particular torture practiced here was pole-hanging (the shower heads in this large gallery and the hooks between the pillars on which men were hung by their arms have been removed):
A group of nearly 150 captured but unruly Russian officers was shot against this wall (a relatively humane death, given the other death methods in practice such as simply working people to death while starving them [next photo, sorry] ):
As already mentioned, I was chagrined to see the evidence of doctors taking part in this torturous scheme, such as this one where a doctor is apparently making sure the prisoner is not maimed, making him unfit for work, or killed, also making him unfit for work:
Given my father's story about the brutality of the new SS guards at his first slave labor camp, I was interested in this:
My father's story rings true.
Let's get away from here and go to the barracks.
Go to the second Dachau page: "living" quarters
Go to the third Dachau page: administering death, and cremation
Go to the fourth Dachau page: final thoughts.
Berchtesgaden and the Königssee
The Zugspitze in the clouds
Just some photos from Austria between two parts of Germany
Two castles on the "Romantic Road," Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau
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