"Think about how we died here" that is a sign at the camp, which makes you realise the brutalities of the SS and one of the black chapters of German History.
I took an English walking tour of the Dacau camp and the guide was very well read and patient and takes you almost half a day to see through the whole camp .
There is a good cafe at the entrance of the camp, wherein you can pack some refreshments, coz once inside difficult to take a break again.
The restoration of the camp is in progress.Its a must for people who are interested in the history of a place.
Unfortunately the low temperatures didn’t allow us to spend some time in the town of Dachau. What we saw was just what was on the bus route from the train station to Concentration Camp Memorial Site.
It’s a mid size Germany town with about 40,000 inhabitants, most of them work in Munich. There is a historic center that houses a 18th century castle, some old churches (15th and 17th century) but I guess most visitors come here for the infamous Dachau concentration camp. The pic I took from the bus shows JFK square.
One of the most disturbing parts of Dachau is the area with the crematoriums. There were built outside the main camp area so not to be visible.
The Old Crematorium (pic 1) was built in the summer of 1940 when non german prisoners came. The mortality rate was so big that a year later it was already working beyond capacity! It was in operation until 1943, until then 11,000 inmates were cremated there.
The new crematorium was housed in a bigger brick building (pic 3) and was much bigger (pic 4) with four big ovens to handle the greatly increasing need. It was built in 1942 a few meters away from the old one. Each of the four furnaces could cremate more than 3-4 corpses at once as the ovens were maintained at full heat non stop. What shocked us most was the fact that this was also an execution site as many inmates were hanged directly in front of the burning ovens.
Next to crematorium area we noticed the Gas Chamber (pic 5) that was “advertised” as “showers” as it had fake shower spouts to mislead the victims. Of course the truth was that it was a death trap, in 20 minutes up to 150 people could be suffocated through prussic acid poison gas. Although it never put into operation in Dachau (unlike in other camps) many were transferred in other camps for extermination. There were also some smaller gas chambers too, those were made for delousing clothing while some others were used as mortuary or undressing rooms.
At the back side of the camp (near the crematoriums) we saw a sad statue that was created in memory to all the people that lost their lives in Dachau Concentration Camp. It’s the Monument of the Unknown Prisoner, made by Fritz Koelle that used Kurt Lange as a model (he was a Germany homosexual that was prisoned here in Dachau).
It looks a simple sculpture but go closer and check the oversized shoes, the sadness/pain in the face etc For me it this monument was much more powerful than the main one near the museum.
Escaping from Dachau Concentration Camp was impossible as it was surrounded by high wall and barbed wire fencing with sharpened stakes to make it more difficult, let aside the electric wire fence. There was also a steep moat with water behind the fence and a sleeper ditch in front of the fence, also a flat area around that was some kind of no man’s land.
Guards with machine guns from the towers had orders to shoot anyone that was coming close to the wire, sadly to say but many inmates did it on purpose just to put an end to their suffering and “escape” from the hell of the camp.
At the end of the main road we saw the religious memorials, some of them open for religious services but not always:
1.Protestant Church of Reconciliation
Designed by Helmut Striffler and opened on april 30, 1967. It is supported by the German Protestant Church. It has many curves so to be in contrast with the strict lines that Nazis liked (and used through out the camp)
2.Catholic Mortal Agony of Christ Chapel (pics 2-3)
Designed by architect Josef Wiedemann, opened on august 5, 1960 during the Eucharist World Congress. It was started by the former prisoner Johannes Neuhausler that later become the suffragan bishop of Munich. It’s circular structure with twisted iron bars that symbolize the Crown of Thorns.
3.Jewish Memorial Site (pic 1)
It was designed by architect Hermann Zwi Guttmann and officially opened on may 7, 1967 on the site where Himmler had his rabbit hutches! It’s a symbolic structure about the murder of European jews. There is ramp that leads inside and a light marble (from Peki’in in Israel) points to an opening in the roof and carries the sevenbranched candelabrum, the menorah.
Near the crematoriums we also saw the Russian Orthodox chapel (pic 4) which is actually behind the main fence on a spot where many (mostly prisoners from Russia) faced death by the nazi firing squads. Designed by architect Valentin Utkin it was built by Russian armed forces in 1994.
The original barracks of Dachau demolished in 1965 when they felt in decay. Apart from the ones that inmates were sleeping there were barracks for medical experiments (where the inmates were used as objects and they all died of course), the library, a canteen etc
Unlike other camps where you can see the original barracks here you can see 2 reconstructed barracks that try (but fail) to illustrate how they were at that time. There is some wooden furniture, mainly wooden platforms where the inmates were sleeping packed all together in almost suffocation environment, originally each barrack to house 90 inmates but as the years were passing by more and more people were pushed in each building with limited toilet facilities, no heating etc. The camp was built to host 3000 people, at the end of the war there were more than 30,000 here! (200,000 in total from 1933 to 1945)
We didn’t really stay long here, it’s not a museum, this is a place where people really suffered, we got out on the main road that was between the barracks. This was the main road (pic 5) with 17 barracks on each side, now you can see the cement foundations only. It was freezing that day and as we walked up the road we were speechless, trying to imagine all these people that walked here everyday without hope.
Appelplatz (between the barracks and the administration building) was the roll call area where the inmates had to stand daily no matter if it was under the sun during the summer or in very low temperatures during winter (-20’C was normal so imagine some weak starving people with almost nothing for clothes). Near by you can see the poles where some poor ones were hung because they broke the rules.
In the picture you can see the international memorial, a bronze sculpture that was made by the yugoslavian sculptor Nandor Glid (he was from Yugoslavia in 1924 but during WWII he was in concentration camp, although he survived he lost many relatives in Auschwitz).
It is called “In The Machine”, definitely a touching monument showing bodies caught on a barbed wire. The bodies are emaciated like those who died by starvation in the camp. Many others died by diseases or during medical experiments (they were exposed in freezing water etc) while others just committed suicide going near the fences and got shot by the guards to escape the hell they were living.
A zig zag ramp leads to the memorial while a message is written on the granite wall in five different languages, Never Again…
Inside the museum of the Dachau Concentration Camp there is a 250seat theatre room where you can watch a film/documentary about the camp and the nazi era.
It is shown in English and german, check the timetable/language at the door and adjust your visit with the time that is suitable for you. Although I didn’t learn something new from the video it is a nice introduction and gets you in the proper mood (some people don’t really realize that all those concentration camps were like hell for the prisoners and not just a prison area).
We spent 2 out of the 3 hour visit inside the museum or the camp, I suggest everyone to visit the museum first. It is housed on the former Services Building and although not big in size it’s really interesting.
After watching a small video/documentary we started to check the various exhibits and info boards that are full of information, documents and photographs that will let you feel how difficult life was in the camp for all these people that were forced to senseless activity just for humiliation. The inmates fully exhausted from work and standing at roll call area were granted no rest in their barracks as they had to polish the floor, wash dishes and lockers etc
There are detailed descriptions about the living conditions or the punishments, personal stories of the prisoners etc Some drawings of inmates are also shocking showing their suffering experience in the camp.
There’s also lot of information about Concentration camps in general with maps (it’s amazing how many camps there were just in the general area of Munich), scale model of the camp, info about the Nazism rising etc
The first thing you see when visiting Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site is the iron gate with the sign that houses the phrase Arbeit Macht Frei (Work makes you free). It was a cruel ironic message of course (some say joke but in this case a bad one) as no one really got free after “working” in any concentration camp (it was written in other concentration camps too).
It was part of Nazi’s propaganda (Joseph Goebbels had many stupid ideas like this, same with commandant Udolf Hoess who was responsible for thousands deaths of prisoners in the camps) to prove/convince that the camps were just areas of rehabilitation of the enemies.
According to many sources and references the phrase was the title of a novel (from 1872) that the Weimar government used in 1928 when the unemployment was higher than ever. Nazis seem that had stolen the phrase and the first commandant of Dachau Theodore Eicke put it here as this camp was officially a rehabilitation camp so the prisoners to move elsewhere after a while.
Although we now see visitors come and go we felt weird passing the gate of Dachau-KZ. By the way it opens to the inside while the original gate opened to the outside. There is also a tablet on the wall (pic 4) in honor of the 20th armored division U.S. 7th army who participated in the liberation of Dachau concentration camp (april 29, 1945)
The Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site is open daily 9.00-17.00. We were there at about 11.00am on a cold winter day and there some groups of tourists but they told me in warm months it may get really crowded.
There’s no entrance fee but the first thing we did is to visit the Visitor Center where you can also buy water, some light snacks or just drink a coffee at the cafeteria. But the reason we went there was to rent the audio guides, they cost 3euros but they give you many detailed information as you walk along the site. They also provided us with a plan of the memorial site with general descriptions of the historical buildings but also of those reconstructions and memorials that have been added after the liberation (1945)
Some people will go with guided tours (tickets for 3euros) that last for 2,5 hours. I guess it’s convenient to have someone to answer your question, still I’ve heard some people complaining about some guides. Tours in English daily at 11.00am and 13.00.
Comfortable shoes are highly recommended because we walked for about 3 hours inside the memorial site.
Getting out of the Visitor Center we walked along the tree-lined path, on both sides there were large black and white photographs and some information that works fine as introduction to Dachau-KZ (Konzentrationslager).
once you enter the camp to your left is the large administration building. here is the visitor center and the dachau museum. they also show an imformative movie about the history and abuses of the camp. a good first stop when visiting dachau.
pictured is the main lane that runs through the barracks area of dachau concentration camp. when theodor eicke planned the camp he laid out 17 rows of barracks on each side of the "avenue" for a total of 34 barracks. the original plan was for a capacity of 3500 inmates. between 1933 and 1945 200,000 inmates passed through the gates of dachau. at the end of the lane is one of several memorials to the victims of dachau.
Try not to visit when school groups are attending. I say this, but it is impossible to determine when they might be there. We were surprised to find that schools were still in progress at the end of July.
If you see a large number of tour buses parked in the lot, be prepared, and avoid as best you can. I was disappointed to find the lack of respect given by the kids, especially the teens. This is not a typical site as such, a tourist destination of course, but it has questionable entertainment value.
Visiting Dachau was much like an extended vist to your local cemetary, however much more moving for the average adult.