DAY 7 – Dachau

Jewish memorial in the Dachau concentration camp

Jewish memorial in the Dachau concentration camp

Today we visited the Dachau concentration camp memorial. It was the most chilling thing I have ever experienced.

Throughout our lives during education we, as Americans, are taught what happened in the Holocaust not only because it is history, but also because it is important to recognize genocide so it doesn’t happen again. Besides the history classes and research projects, I also have seen the movie Schindler’s list. I thought I had a full picture in my mind of World War II and especially the Holocaust. I was wrong. Dachau, was the first concentration camp and was initially a prison for political opposition. It was an example for the other camps. It was also famous for the medical experiments that were performed on the prisoners, which often resulted in death.

It put me right there where I could touch the trees the prisoners touched, walk the road they walked and see the barracks they slept in. Nothing could be more up close and personal then the incredible memorial we toured.

Having Arnoud as a tour guide was also very enlightening. He told me something very touching that I will use in my story – he never ceases to be emotional whenever he visits the camp, even though he has visited more than one hundred times. He was also very adamant about taking photos so that it can never, ever happen again. But yet fascism still exists in our world and that is depressing.

Touring the barracks and walking the main drag were great introductions to the religious memorials. It refreshed my mind so I could truly immerse myself in their symbolism. Arnoud gave us some very interesting side notes about life in the barracks while we were there, such as if there was so much as a coffee stain on the floor the whole barrack would be punished. It was hot in the summer and freezing in the winter, not to mention extremely overcrowded.

The most fascinating religious memorial was the Jewish one. The architecture created such a chilling effect. It is very difficult to explain the structure, but what I felt was darkness and cold all around me, closing in on me until finally when I came across a solemn beam of light leading to hope

The Jews were hopeless for much of their time at the camp. Many committed suicide by running into barbed wire. There is a structure in front of the main tourist building that is made up of skeletons contorted together to look like barbed wire as a memorial to those who chose to end their suffering.

Everyone was quiet and avoided eye contact when we toured gas chamber and crematorium. I felt so uncomfortable because what I had heard and what I had seen in movies was real. It was here. Death occurred right where I was standing. But Dachau didn’t use the gas chambers to execute mass murders because it didn’t have the power and according to Arnoud, prisoners heard what was happening in Auswitch and started to break what was used in the chambers.

We also watched an older movie on concentration camps in the tourist building. It tied everything together, and was especially powerful because of the real video and photos they used of what the Americans saw when they came to liberate the camps.

I wish we had hours to read the rest of what was available in the building because it was all so much. I love reading about the lives of the people who were involved, what brought them there as well as their stories. I tried looking for the names of my relatives who lived in Poland at the time in a big book of prisoners’ names. I found a few, so I took pictures, and I plan on showing them to my grandma to see if she can recognize any of them.

I know from now on I will be even more sensitive to genocide – because I know it occurs in many areas of the world, especially Africa. It is not much different from the torture these people went through. It was a solemn day, but it was a necessary day. I just wish that the world could see what I saw.

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