Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Dachau Concentration Camp

Dachau is a town in southern Germany, just outside Munich. It is best known for the proximity of the relatively well-preserved site of the infamous Dachau Concentration Camp, the first large-scale concentration camp in Germany, converted from an old gunpowder factory by the Nazi regime in 1933.
Although Dachau was not the first Nazi prisoner camp, it was the first concentration-style camp after which all subsequent concentration camps were modelled. Together with the much larger Auschwitz, Dachau has come to symbolize the Nazi concentration camps to many people.
The camp was first opened in 1933 for political prisoners mostly opponents of Nazism. With the rise in prisoner numbers, terror in the camp intensified. The Jourhaus was the entrance and exit to the prisoner's camp. For the prisoners, it marked the border between the outside world and their imprisonment in the camp. The preserved section of the railroad track where prisoners arrived in rail cars.
Prisoners crossed a bridge over the Würm River and entered the prison compound through the gatehouse.
Arbeit macht frei is a German phrase meaning "work brings freedom" or "work shall set you free", some sort as a way of instilling false hope (maybe, at least to the Jews).
Over time, other groups were also interned at Dachau, including a relatively few Jews. However, in the later years, the number of Jewish prisoners at Dachau rose dramatically with the increased persecution of Jews (the largest national group was formed by Polish prisoners).
When prisoners arrived at the camp they were beaten, insulted, shorn of their hair, and had all their belongings taken from them. The SS guards could kill whenever they thought it was appropriate.
Located along the central axis of the camp was the main camp road, along which the thirty four barracks (where the prisoners lived) were built on both the left and the right.
The former location of the barracks are marked by foundations and the ground plan of the camp is still recognizable today. The original barracks had to be torn down due to their poor condition when the memorial was built. However, two of the 34 barracks have been reconstructed to show how the prisoners lived in the concentration camp.
The original design of the barrack facilities was to hold approximately 6,000 prisoners. But because the camp was constantly over-crowded in the final years, the hygenic conditions were beneath human dignity and a typhus epidemic took the lives of thousands.
Interior view of the barrack. Prisoners were stacked into triple bunks in each barrack.
The prisoners were required to keep the barracks very clean and orderly. Prisoners were granted only little rest in their barracks. They were exploited for all sorts of work.
Wash basins designed for use by prisoners.
The common toilet facility in the barracks.
On the roll-call area the prisoners were counted every morning and evening and assigned to their work details. Punishment measures were announced and carried out here publicly to intimidate the prisoners.
Aerial photograph of the Dachau concentration camp.
Dachau prisoners were used as forced laborers. German physicians performed medical experiments on prisoners, including high-altitude experiments using a decompression chamber, malaria and tuberculosis experiments, hypothermia experiments, and experiments testing new medications.
Hundreds of prisoners died or were permanently crippled as a result of these experiments.
In 1942, the crematorium area was constructed next to the main camp. It included the old crematorium and the new crematorium (Barrack X) with a gas chamber.
In the course of the war, the Dachau concentration camp increasingly became a site of mass murder. But the ovens in the crematorium could no longer able to cope with the number of dead toward the end of the war. The feeling was quite intense inside the crematorium building as if the dead were still around.
The gas chamber disguised as shower room was designed specifically for homicidal purposes. However, it was actually never used and it is believed that an intentional design flaw may have saved hundreds, perhaps thousands of lives.
Through findings, it is generally accepted that the deads in Dachau camp perished through starvation, exposure, sickness — particularly typhus as well as other mistreatments, and execution by means other than poison gas. The ovens in the crematorium - bodies are cremated in a continuous manner, where new corpses are simply fed into the ovens as the old ones are consumed. .
The camp was surrounded by electrified barbed-wire fence.
One of the guard towers of the prisoner compound within the SS men shooting range. No way to really escape.
With the victorious advance of the Allied troops, on April 29, 1945, units from the US Army liberated the Dachau concentration camp.
"The day is over, this April 29, 1945. I will celebrate it for the rest of my life as my second birthday, as the day that gifted me life anew." Edgar Kupfer-Koberwitz.
When the Dachau Concentration Camp was liberated, the Americans were overwhelmed by the sight of the dead bodies of hundreds of prisoners.
The bunker, the prison in the concentration camp and thus the prison within the prison, had many functions.
Above all, it was a central site of terror: imprisonment in the bunker, often for weeks at a time and without sufficient food, was one of the penalties which could be imposed on the prisoners. During this imprisonment the prisoners were especially exposed to the arbitrary tyranny and brutality of the SS men. Many saw suicide as their last resort.
At present day, most traces of Nazi brutality are gone, replaced by beautiful monuments and memorials featuring modern art. A Memorial Chapel, easily identified as Russian by its distinctive onion dome, was erected in honor of the Russian Prisoners of War who died in the Dachau camp.
The Catholic Memorial Chapel was built in honor of the Catholic priests, mostly from Poland, who were brought to this camp as political prisoners.
The Jewish Memorial Prayer House - A hole in the roof allows a shaft of light to enter the room and one can look up through this hole and see the Menorah (oldest symbol of the Jewish people) on top of the building.
A Catholic Carmelite Convent, which was built in 1964 just outside the camp fence with an entrance through one of the former guard towers.
In 1938, two of the Dachau prisoners, Soyfer and Herbert Zipper, wrote a song about Dachau. Called the Dachaulied or Dachau song, the lyrics were about how the prisoners had to march in and out of the "Arbeit Macht Frei" gate on their way to work.
The memorial site was opened in 1965 and has developed increasingly into a place of learning and remembrance that found worldwide interest. Never Again in five languages on a monument wall.
The camp headquarters is now a museum - display of films, photos, and oral history of the site.
For more information on the Dachau Concentration Camp, visit site :
Other pictures taken nearby the concentration camp.
Another picture taken in Dachau, near to the old town area.
The Palace of Dachau was a medieval castle and became the favourite residence of the Bavarian dukes in the 16th century. Only one of the four wings still exists, the others were demolished in the early 19th century.
View of the Dachau town from the hillside.
The visit to the Dachau Concentration Camp was actually long planned. I am glad to have finally visited the place. Although the name Dachau has somewhat became a synonym for crimes and Dachau may now still live with its burden of a difficult past, it will always be a good history lesson for everyone of us.


Anonymous said...

sad isn't it, what human beings are capable of?

Eddie said...

your best post !!
The place must be spooky.. imagine hundred thousands if not millions were killed. You were actually surrounded by their spirits at the ground.

Your pictures remind me of the Oscar winning film, "Beautiful Day" and the "Pianist". I always get moved watching them.

Yes, never let it happen again. :(