Take your minds back to March 1933. Still a tick over six years off the invasion of Poland and subsequent war, Germany began to lay the stepping stones to their final solution. Dachau concentration camp was opened up on March 22 and housed around 200 prisoners who were sent off every morning for forced labor. As the years rolled by the camp saw a heavy increase in prisoners that included gypsy’s, blacks, homosexuals and other misfits that began to also include Jews. In 1942, Dachau became infamouse for the shooting of over 4,000 Soviet troops which was a clear two fingered salute to the Geneva Convention.
Whilst there were no mass killings of Jews, it was still a place that sent shivers through my spine in February 2010 as I walked the grounds and deserted buildings. It was a typical cold German afternoon when I took the bust from Munich out to the camp. As you approach the camp, it hits you that the area is surrounded by residential housing. During the war, locals would hang their washing out whilst prisoners were merely meters away in full view. Unfortunately, even had any German residents felt an ounce of sympathy, they too would have been sent to a camp or shot on the spot. I don’t think we realize just how bad things were which is why it is important to visit the many camps still littered around Europe. And Dachau was the prototype for the other camps that followed.
On the day I visited, the snow fall was heavy, there was next to nobody there and that only led to a heightened sense of despair as I wandered through the cold buildings that once held thousands of prisoners. There were interrogation rooms that still have remnants from the past in place. Utterly frightening on so many levels. Heinrich Himmler was the how do you say it? Architect behind the camp. It was designed to hold around 13,000 yet, when liberated by the American’s on May 1 1945, there were no less than 30,000 people held captive inside. More than double its capacity. Naturally, you can only imagine that there were little to no creature comforts for those enclosed. Some of the rooms also include the original beds which would have to sleep up to three people at any time. Singles beds mind. The German guards would also take astute pleasure in midnight raids where they would wake up prisoners, strip them naked before taking them out into the cold winters snow and frost where they would have to dance like monkeys or fear being shot. Often, once the guards had their fun, they would shoot the prisoners regardless for shits and giggles. Hard to imagine how any human being could be so cruel?
On the outer walls of the camp, you come to learn just how hard it would have been to escape. Many of the buildings were destroyed after the war though there is still remnants of the fencing that surrounded the area. Once outside the fence, you would have around 200 meters to run before the thick and dense forest. The only problem being, potential escapees were picked off by German guards in the gun tarots that lined the outer walls of the camp essentially, giving you no chance to escape the clutches of the Nazi’s. Thinking about these prospects, or lack of as I strolled around in the fading light, I guess it made me thankful for the life I lead. Actually, the life most of us are fortunate enough to enjoy.
At the end of the camps life, it is believed that over 23,000 people died during its operational period between 1933 and 1945. All the Nazi camps are worth visiting for a multitude of reasons. They should never be allowed to be forgotten because they are such an important part of our history and also our future. Whilst you may think visiting these camps is a little morbid, it’s a reminder of what life was like and why we should never be supporting wars of any kind.