On the Saturday before Easter, I drove my sister-in-law and nieces out towards Munich to the former Dachau Concentration Camp.
Dachau was actually the first camp built by the Nazis. The party's headquarters in Munich and the camp's close proximity to them meant that they could easily observe the success of the camp and all the concentration camps built afterward were modeled after Dachau.
The main gate into the camp with the old road leading to it.
The entrance to every concentration camp was marked by the words "Arbeit macht frei", "Work makes you free." The words were meant to give the prisoners entering the camp a false sense of hope that if they worked hard they could earn their freedom. The prisoners did not just endure physical suffering but psychological abuses as well.
Among its prisoners, the camp held special prisoners such as Catholic clergy opposed to the Nazi regime. The SS had a special "school of violence" at the camp and one barrack was reserved for medical experiments. We were able to walk through one of the two remaining barracks that had been living quarters for the prisoners.
We walked through the large maintenance building where there is now an exhibition about the camp, its history, and what life was like there for the prisoners.
We also saw the old crematorium. A new crematorium and a gas chamber was built towards the end of the war but never put into full operation.
The old crematorium above and the new one below.
Although the lives of the prisoners was focused on work and survival...there were still moments where they were able to express their humanity. I was touched by this poem written by an young man living in Dachau as a prisoner:
Here is my translation:
My shadow in Dachau
Mama, I am not returning,
God has told me.
The Hell without feelings of the Soul,
is how I have experienced it...
What have I done, Mama?
Do you know? Tell me
and kiss me in my sleep
light and fleeting,
so that I'm not aware of it,
to respond to the kiss
as before, as you cry over me,
Nevio Vitelli (1928-1946)
Have you ever been to a former concentration camp? They're not easy places to visit. I do believe that places can be tainted by the acts done there. The sadness, the pain, the anger, the despair, the cruelty can still be felt on the grounds. But I think they're important places to see and experience. It helps us to understand what any human being can be capable of...in terms of cruelty, survival, and hope.