A man wakes up not knowing if today will be his last. He must make his bed perfectly or else he will be killed. The terror through the barrack rises, as they topple over each other to make their scarce amount of hay straight. One piece of hay out-of-place and your life is done. Next is the uniform. A man is pleading with his fellow bunk mates for a spare button. No one will lend him one, tears start flooding his face. The sound is heard and they all have to gather in the center of the camp, facing the maintenance building. The man is lucky he is in one of the closer barracks, he knows he will be able to walk without freezing to death. He feels for the ones in the far barracks but knows he needs to survive, so he pushes the thought away. He lines up in his spot. He doesn’t know how long todays roll call with take. He hopes he won’t freeze to death or fall to his knees from fatigue. He can still hear the muffled sobs of the man without the button. He is now forced to sing a Nazi song. The SS are marching around them, looking to make sure everyone is doing and looking how they are supposed to. A loud crack goes through the air, then a thud. Someone wasn’t singing. Then the SS come upon the man without the button. Another crack, another thud. The man thinks to himself, just survive.
This scene I have painted for you is just a tiny amount of the horror that the prisoners in Dachau Concentration camp had to face on a daily basis. I have never felt such heart-breaking sadness as the day I went to the camp. I also did not realize all the information I was lacking about this place. The tour started with our group facing the maintenance building, same as all the prisoners had to. Today there is a sculpture in the middle. The sculpture is of tangled bodies. Our guide told us that it represents the emaciated bodies of the prisoners who died of starvation and disease in the camp. It is one of the most moving pieces of art I have ever seen. You can envision the people struggling for their lives and failing. From there we moved inside the maintenance building. Most of the building has been reconstructed because refuges used it after the war. The first room you walk into is the shunt room. This is where the prisoners had to strip completely naked and hand in all their personal belongings. Also in this room, hanging from the ceiling are iron bars. Our guide then proceeds to tell us that they were used for a form of torture called pole hanging. The men were stripped completely naked, with their arms tied behind their back. They would then step onto a chair and the remaining rope would be tied to the pole. Next the SS guard would kick the chair out from under them so their arms would break. If they passed out from the pain, they would be woken up with a blow to the head or a face of ice-cold water. These people were considered prisoners but in reality, they were completely innocent.
From there you enter the showers where they were cleaned and given new uniforms. Surrounding you are pictures of the prisoners and the SS guards. The pictures are hard to look at. Actually, that is an understatement, they are traumatic. My brother sees a person with our last name. I refused to look and see if he was a guard or not because I didn’t think I could live with the answer. The awful cruelties that you learn about in this place make your skin crawl. After the maintenance building we went into the bunker. This building is completely original. It is where the cells for the important prisoners were. These cells were strictly for prisoners who they didn’t want dead, yet. They were important people who could be used as bargaining tools. And then from there to the reconstructed Barracks.
The Barracks consisted of a room with bunk beds. These beds were packed so tightly together that I do not know how anyone got any sleep. From there was a room with lockers where the prisons got to put “their” things. And then a recreation room of sorts or so the SS called it.
As we were taking the long road between the barracks to the memorials, our guide gave us some information that really surprised me. The first bit of information was that Dachau was a work camp. They used the prisoners for the benefit of the Nazi party. It didn’t turn into a death camp until the end of the war. The second and most surprising thing that I learned was that from 1933-1945 the overall Jewish population was 25%. With one day during that time with no Jewish prisoners at all. I was shocked. I thought it would be 95%. What I didn’t realize was that it was all religions that Hitler did not like, political prisoners, gays and anyone they pretty much felt like putting in there.
It was not until the end of the war that Dachau started to become a death camp and Back behind the main area are the “showers” (the gas chamber). There is a striking picture of all the dead bodies piled on top of each other after being gassed. For me the worst part of this experience was about to come next. The gas chamber is open and you can walk through it. I knew I must walk through it. I needed to fully understand this tragedy. The first room is where they stripped and got ready for the “showers.” Then from there, the showers. I do not ever think I will be able to put into words what I felt walking through that room. I just imagined all those innocent people meeting their end, absolutely helpless. I ran through the room. To the room that held the dead bodies. I felt sick. I had to get out of this building and unlike the prisoners, I had that luxury.
You may be reading this and thinking I will never go there, it’s too terrible. But the terribleness is the reason everyone should go. The more people who see it and truly understand it, the less likely it will be repeated.
Lastly, our guide said something at the end of the tour that will forever stand with me. Always look behind the façade of a campaign such as this one and others like it. There are three things that you will find it is all about, money, power and the perversion of religion. Those things are always there, you just need to find it.
“For evil to flourish, it requires good men to do nothing.” ~ Edmund Burke