Dachau concentration camp is a place that must be visited for the sake of remembering those who were lost.

At the end of a long gravel walkway stands a building on the right side. There is an archway through it and a strong metal gate bearing the words, “Arbeit Macht Frei.” “Work makes you free,” was the promise to the prisoners in Dachau prison camp. For some it came true.

Dachau concentration camp is thick with silence and feeling. You cannot walk onto the nearly empty plot of land and not feel something. There’s an oppression that makes the gravity seem stronger. It’s almost as if you can hear the thousands of feet scrambling from the barracks to the courtyard to line up for roll call. They might stand for hours there, waiting for the guards to give leave. The smell of bodies and ashes still lingers in the air around the ovens. It might be imagination, but your mind plays tricks.

 

History of Dachau

Opened as a prisoner camp, Dachau held Soviet prisoners of war, Catholics, as well as Jews and others. The ovens in the back corner beyond the soldier’s camp were only built to take care of the piles of bodies dead from natural causes like the epidemic of typhus caused by overpopulation. A gas chamber was built but never used; no one knows why.

As in other camps, the Nazis performed medical experiments on prisoners in Dachau for the sake of research. Such as putting them in low pressure rooms and documenting their reactions, or placing them in freezing water like a Luftwaffe pilot in the open sea, according to the Dachau Memorial Site.

Dachau Today

The main building still stands and houses a museum and theater. The rooms that once fed, washed, and tortured prisoners now hold exhibits. The desks that the prisoners made with their own hands to hold their files sit against the walls. The theater plays a movie made almost entirely of photos because filming was not allowed in Dachau.

Only the foundations of the barracks still stand. Two barracks were rebuilt in 1965 for the benefit of visitors. They show the progression of the bedding situation throughout the war from single beds to mass boxes. The camp was meant to hold 6,000 prisoners; over 63,000 were registered in the camp and sub camps when it was liberated on April 29, 1945.

Entrance to the site is free. The original wall and seven guard towers surround the compound. Three memorials stand on the grounds; one protestant, one catholic, and one Jewish. Visiting Dachau is surreal. To imagine what happened there is almost impossible, but it was a painful reality.