Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 2, 2010

Dachau | Do Not Forget

   Dachau Concentration Camp near Munich, Germany 

   As my Dad and Paul and I continue our sentimental journey through Germany, we set aside today to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial. After an early breakfast, we programmed the GPS in our Peugeot rental vehicle and navigated the autobahn from Rothenburg to the 1200 year-old Bavarian city of Dachau. Unfortunately, Dachau’s long history is overshadowed by the relatively recent atrocities of the Third Reich. Adolf Hitler became Reich Chancellor in 1933. A few weeks later, on March 22, Dachau was opened as the first concentration camp for political prisoners. As a result, Germany and the world would never be the same again. 

Crematorium at Dachau

Crematorium at Dachau

   The Dachau Concentration Camp is enclosed by a barbed-wire-topped wall accented by a series of guard towers. When it was in operation, the camp was also surrounded by a mile-wide restricted area. Within three years of opening Dachau, Hitler’s Nazi party began constructing a system of concentration camps where millions would suffer unspeakable indignity and death. By 1936, the terror at Dachau had intensified. Dachau became a school of violence where Hitler’s elite Schutzstaffel received training to operate the concentration camps under their command. It was there that these feared SS men learned the barbarous art of torture. And, it was from there that they exported these demonic innovations to other concentration camps throughout Germany and Poland. 

   Although many people died at Dachau, many more were sent from Dachau to gas chambers in other concentration camps located in places far from the eyes of the German public. Starting in 1942, the SS conducted horrific medical experiments on prisoners. In 1944, the SS set up a so-called special barrack which was a bordello in which female prisoners from the Ravensbruck concentration camp were forced into prostitution. In the final weeks before the liberation of the camp, the dead could no longer be burned in Dachau’s ovens due to a lack of coal. These remaining thousands were buried at Leitenberg, a lonely hill located north of the camp. Others were buried at the Wald Cemetery of the City of Dachau. 

   The Dachau Concentration Camp was liberated by US Army troops on April 29, 1945. However, ceremonies to observe the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the camp were held today. Dignitaries from several countries were present to make speeches and place memorial wreaths at the site. Ironically, it was overcast and raining, as if to indicate that heaven itself was weeping at the memory of what happened here. Ceremonies like this serve as a reminder to never forget the horrors that fear mixed with blind patriotism and evil leaders can unleash on the world. 

Dad at Mass Grave Site at Dachau

Dad at Mass Grave Site

   As we walked the grounds of Dachau today, I could not help but think about other places I have visited where people died en masse – places like Masada, the displacement camps of Darfur, Cambodia’s killing fields, and more. I was glad to learn that German students are required to visit a concentration camp. That’s good. But, I wish that every student on the planet could do the same because it seems that the only thing we learn from atrocities is that we never learn from atrocities. We need to preserve and visit places like Dachau. And, we need to have ceremonies to honor the memory of those who have suffered injustice at the hands of evil people. We must do so lest we grow complacent and tolerant of the evil that is always crouching at the door, ready to destroy us all.


Responses

  1. Beautifully written…

  2. I have been to Dachau as a child. It changed me forever. I too agree that all children should experience this pain. I do wish you would have described the sadness that permeates this area.

    • Walking through Dachau is certainly a sobering experience. While there is a sadness that permeates and will always be associated with this geographical area, it’s the sadness that permeates our hearts that ultimately changes us. As with other similar places I have visited, from Cambodia’s killing fields to the displacement camps of Darfur, Dachau beckons us to turn our sadness into the fuel that should energize us to work toward ensuring that there will not be another Dachau.


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