MUST SEE: DACHAU CONCENTRATION CAMP IN GERMANY
When I was living in London, my friend and I decided to head off for a weekender before we were due to move back to Australia. We had so many cities we wanted to visit including Prague, Stockholm and Vienna; in the end we decided to go to Munich in Germany. One of the main reasons was that we both wanted to experience a slice of WWII history by visiting a concentration camp and we knew there was one in Dachau on the outskirts of Munich. It might sound like a gloomy weekender, but it seemed wrong to live in Europe for two years and not do something like this About Dachau concentration camp was one of the first and longest serving Nazi camps in Germany and is located at an abandoned munitions factory about 16km northwest of Munich. It opened in 1933 and was originally a concentration camp for political prisoners. Serving as a prototype for the other Nazi concentration camps around Europe, the Dachau administration recorded an intake of 206,206 prisoners and 41,500 deaths over its 12 years as a concentration camp. This death toll is regarded as highly unlikely as even though there is no evidence of mass murder within the camp, the ovens used to cremate the bodies would have hidden the evidence of many deaths.
How to get there The best way to get to the concentration camp is first by train, then bus. Take the S2 train from Munich in the direction of Dachau/Petershausen until you reach the Dachau station. The train ride takes approximately 25 to 30 minutes from Munich’s Central Station (Hauptbahnhof). Once you have arrived at the Dachau train station, take bus 726 towards Saubachsiedlung which will drop you off at the entrance of the memorial site (do note you need to walk past the visitor centre to get to the actual site of the camp). Upon arrival, there is a visitor centre from which you can grab a bite to eat, order a warm cup of hot chocolate, organise a guided tour, use the bathroom or roam around the bookstore.
What we did My friend and I went in the middle of winter, and whilst we were rugged up in thermals, beanies, coats and scarves we could only imagine how freezing the conditions would have been for the prisoners. It was brutally cold, the leaves had fallen from the trees, and even though the wind was blowing a gale it was eerily quiet when we approached the entrance gate to the camp. The wrought iron gate bears the phrase “Arbeit macht frei” which translated into English means “Work makes you free”. It literally left us speechless as we walked through the gate and came upon 69 prisoner barracks to the left and the main building on the right.
The camp was surrounded by an electrified barbed-wire gate, a deep ditch and a wall with seven guard towers (which we learned many prisoners committed suicide by running towards the wall as if to escape, willing the guards to shoot and kill them). My friend and I chose to enter the main building on the right which housed an exhibition and general information. We started having a look around when I noticed it began snowing outside so we ran out the door to take some photos. It was a very bitter sweet moment seeing those beautiful snowflakes fall from the sky whilst standing in the cold hearted surrounds of the camp where thousands of innocent people lost their lives. It was definitely a moment I’ll always remember...
If you plan on visiting the camp, I would recommend grabbing a map from the main building then get outside and walk past the barracks with the wall on your left. The barracks are all gone except two near the main building which show you what the living conditions would have been like. The walk past the length of the barracks is quite long but when you reach the end, walk over a little bridge on the left and you’ll be taken to the crematorium area.
There are two buildings, the largest was the second purpose built structure for mass cremations. This is where it gets really heart breaking as you can experience room to room what it would have been like being led into the building from one end, stripped of your clothes, being told you were having a 'shower' only to be gassed to death before your bodies were moved in the next room where they were cremated, often by other prisoners who were forced to act out such atrocities.
Once you are ready to move on from the crematorium, I recommend paying a visit to the four chapels and memorials which were put in place in the 60’s towards the bottom of the barracks. From there walk up back to the main building through the wide dirt road situated in the middle of the barracks and finally explore the exhibition in the main building. This part is quite gripping as the photography to be seen and stories to be read are almost beyond belief.
Without a doubt, this is one of the best thing’s I did when I lived in London. I love modern history and being able to experience, even on some insignificant level, what it would have been like in the shoes of other people during WWII. I sincerely recommend anyone wanting to do a weekender in Munich, that they pay a visit to the concentration camp in Dachau.