Visit of the KZ-Gedenkstätte Dachau 2018

Grade 9 – 15.03.2018

After getting out of the bus, we were met with the concentration camp we would be visiting for the day. Looking at the fenced area could already give us an idea about the dimension of the whole camp. Large enough to keep more than thousands of people. The vague idea of all the things that had been done there, was enough to make the mood drop from a cheerful to a rather serious one the moment we stepped through the first gate. The first thing we could see was the old SS ward, that was rebuilt into a police station. We weren´t allowed to enter that part of course since the station was still in full use. Our first stop with our guide was at the old railway tracks leading straight to the concentration camps entry. The tracks were the originals from back when the camp was still used, so was the gate and the first watch tower. Looking at the gate everyone read the inscription. “Arbeit macht frei”, written in big bold letters at the top. Knowing about the cruel things that really happened in this camp, this inscription was a dark kind of ironic. Walking through it, we could only imagine the torture it must have been to read those words when getting there and then only ever being able to read it from the inside again, knowing that the words are anything but true.

The atmosphere dropped even more when we stood in the enormous courtyard. In front of us it was restricted by a high wall, to the right by a strange long building, to the left by a smaller container and behind us by the gate. Our guide gave us our first info about the true size before we crossed the gigantic yard. Our guide proceeded to tell us about the cruelties that happened there: How long the inmates had to stand there, in the burning sun, over several hours, not even moving an inch. We were shocked, no one had expected the circumstances the inmates lived under to be so brutal.

That initial shock only strengthened when we entered the area for the admission procedure. We followed the path of a typical admission procedure, first the room where the personal belongings had been taken away together with the clothes of every new inmate, then through the showers where their heads had been shaved, then the room where they got their clothing and markings only to conclude it by being shown where they had gotten their working places assigned. Going through the rooms with the personal belongings that had been found at the concentration camp after the Second World War, was probably the most heart-breaking. We could read the letters that never fulfilled their purpose of reaching the right people, and all the documents about birth that would never have an opposing death certificate with the exact date. When our guide also told us about the system by which the inmates had been separated, we quickly realized that even inside the concentration camp there was a hierarchy and that the inmates were not as friendly to one another as we had expected.

We continued our tour by leaving the building for admission and entering the space for the special cases of inmates. It was more like a special prison inside a prison. Standing inside the building, looking into the corridor made it seem almost endless. Displayed in the entrance hall were a few more diary entries and reports from survivors, describing the life inside the camp. Together with reading those we were allowed to look around the cells and read the information boards to the different kinds of cells displayed there. Each one was more gruesome than the other, purely designed to torture the inmate in the worst possible kind of way. Just walking through it and imagining the torture, made the mood drop even more.

After looking at the special cells we had to pass the gigantic courtyard again. At the other end we reached the small container. We soon found out that it was one of the barracks the inmates had to sleep, eat and care for their hygiene in. Everything was very narrow and built as simply as possible. Only one of the 30 barracks had been rebuilt to display the living situation. One could only see the outlines from the other 29 on the ground.

We made another stop at the outer wall, where our guide explained us what had been done to inmates who had tried to escape the camp, before we continued to our last spot - the graveyard with the gas chambers in the back.

We didn´t spend a lot of time at the graveyard, only really passed through, before we went straight to the gas chambers. After our guide told us the least amount of information we could look around on our own and read all the info tables we wanted. That way we could decide ourselves how much we could take and how many details we wanted to learn about. Passing through the gas chambers and learning what happened to the inmates after the freeing was an interesting way to end our tour. We ended it where many lives of other people only about 55 years prior were taken by violently.

Making our way back we visited the memorial plaza again, with the statue and the promises of every country to never let something like this happen again. As a last goodbye we also watched a short movie with original footage from German officers but also from the freeing forces that found the completely overcrowded concentration camp. We left through the small gate with the ironic inscription just like the survivors did so many years ago. And just like them, we will remind us and others of these events, just like them we will try to prevent this from ever happening, just like them we will remember and just like them we will try to make the world a better place. 

Doris Balos 9b