I would not do justice to re-write everything that has been written about the Holocaust, and I hope to provide you with as many links to learn more about it on your own.
We visited the Concentration camp in Dachau with saddened hearts, having seen so much tragedy in our own country only 10 days earlier (Sept. 11th).
This site really is an amazing tribute, that is packed full of history, and photographs. I would recommend that you visit, as it is an important part of history that needs to be shared.
This site was operational from 1933 until liberated in 1945.
One thing that I learned when viewing this site dedicated to those who lost their life in the Holocaust was the fact that the bodies were not actually cremated, they were incinerated. A Crematorium is a location that burns one body at a time, and seperates each individual's remains. This was actually an incinerator, which burns multiple bodies at once, and mixes the remains.
One of the most imposing structures throughout the memorial is the Guard Towers. Located on the perimeter of the facility, and still in their original state are the guard towers used to keep the prisoners within the walls of the prison. It was said that the guards had the ability to shoot any prisoner that so much as touched the inner set of barbed wire fence onsite.
For 12 years, these guard towers were the site of many gun shot deaths. Even to this day looking at them signifies how large this loss was to the world.
During our trip to the Dachau Memorial, one of the most stirring moments came when you look upon the empty field where the makeshift homes were for all of these Jewish prisoners. At any one time, there could be up to 30,000 prisoners in the camp.
I knew what to expect from the gas chambers and the incinerators, but seeing the sheer number of tent moorings on the grounds was amazing. A city the size of my current hometown was the relative number of prisoners held at any one time.
Located in the Southeastern corner of the Dachau Concentration Camp was the Gas Chamber in which over 200,000 Jews were executed in a period of 12 years from 1933 until the camp was liberated in 1945.
It is truly amazing to think that the German Nazis could take people in groups of 50 at a time into an area and allow them to "shower" by removing all of their clothing, and then putting them in dark room similar to a gym shower. Instead of water turning on, poison gas would seep in killing everyone in the room. There would then be guards who would come in and move those dead bodies into the crematorium for cremation.
This phrase will be associated with the Nazi movement for eternity, appearing at the entrance to multiple concentration and extermination camps. "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here" might have been more appropriate. Nazi lore attributes the phrase to Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels to convince the world that the camps were made for rehabilitation of opponents of the state, but neither Goebbels or his party were smart enough to originate it. Today we think of Arbeit Macht Frei as a cynical Nazi joke - offering false promise to the condemned. Still others attribute it to Rudolf Hoess, Birkenau commandant, who was personally responsible for the deaths of more people than anyone else in the Nazi hierarchy, and who believed menial work helped him through his imprisonment during the Weimar period.
The truth is far more complex. A German nationalist author used "Arbeit Macht Frei" as the title for an 1872 novel, and the phrase was adopted by the Weimar government in 1928 to advance their public works policy to alleviate unemployment. The Nazis simply stole the phrase for use on their camps. Theodore Eicke, the first Dachau commandant and father of the concentration camp system, mandated its use on all camp entrances (although not all complied). As Dachau was a Class I camp, rehabilitation and release was the stated mission. The phrase was - believe it or not - intended to indicate that "self-sacrifice in the form of endless labor brings spiritual freedom".
The entrance gate at Dachau today is used by almost 900,000 visitors annually. It is the original gate built by a prisoner named Karl Roder. During camp use, the entire gate opened from top to bottom to allow vehicles or prisoners to enter. The inner gate used today was remote controlled from inside the gatehouse and opened to the outside. Today the gate can be opened or closed for photographic purposes by visitors and opens toward the inside of the camp. The terror induced by this gate and its slogan must affect all who pass through it.
According to the master plan of Theodore Eicke, two rows of barracks were built in Dachau, 17 on each side of the main camp road, for a total of 34. On one side, the front two barracks were used over time as a canteen, a camp orderly room, a library, and training rooms. On the other side, the first two barracks housed the sick bay and the experimental quarters, where inhumane clincal trials were carried out on prisoners. The original plans called for 90 occupants in each barrack, divided into two apartments of 45 apiece. Early on, the typical barrack housed 200 or twice specifications, but by the end of the war perhaps 1500-2000 in inconceivably crowded quarters. One special building was reserved for priests who opposed the Nazi movement. The original buildings were destroyed in 1965 because of their poor condition but the cement foundations remain to show how close the barracks were. Two replicas have been reconstructed from original plans to illustrate the interiors accurately. Words are difficult to describe the conditions of life here from the huge numbers crammed into these small buildings one on top of the other (images 2,3 ) especially as the war neared its end. The close concentration of the foundations was a most striking images for me - thousands of starving sick prisoners in such close suffocating confinement - a memory not easily forgotten.
Each building measured 110 x 11 yards, with 17 lined up on each side of the main road which was only 330 yards long and 33 yards wide. Do the math - the buildings were one on top of the other as the accompanying images suggest.
The original Dachau inmates lived in the buildings of the abandoned munitions factory. By 1937-8 the new barracks had been built. Each contained a central sleeping room for 90 inmates in triple-tiered adjoined wooden bunks. On each side, communal living-dining areas and toilet facilities were intended for 45. Total estimated camp population was not intended to exceed approximately 3500. Included are images of the bunks and toilet facilities.
At no time were there less than double the number of intended occupants. After Kristallnacht, 10000 Jews were added to the Dachau population bringing the population over 15000. By war's end more than 30000 people were using facilities intended for one-tenth that number.
The Dachau visited today is a sterile recreation of a physical plant, with only two barracks. Walking through the barracks, my mind was drawn to conditions when these buildings were inhabited, one on top of the other literally. Hundreds of people forced to use the limited toilet facilities, 4 or 5 men sleeping head to foot in one bunk, with three bunks on top of each other. The dining room with up to several hundred people. The mass of humanity leaving twice a day for the outdoor roll call or for work details. The incredible dehumanizing crowding, the lack of sanitation, the smell of unwashed unclean bodies and excrement permeating these small buildings. Consider the summers at +30C and the winters at minus 20C.
Today the beds are empty as are the toilets, the walls barren, the bunks barren. Let your imagination conjure up the horrors of life in a Nazi camp particularly near the end of the war when typhus was rampant, heat not available, food supplies at less than starvation levels, absent medical care, work shifts were up to 13 hours a day and hope was absent. Spend a few minutes in the barracks building and reflect on the inhumanity evidenced here.
The International Monument at the Dachau Memorial Site lies between the museum and the Appelplatz, designed by Yugoslav sculptor Glid Nandor. Born in Yugoslavia in 1924, he passed WWII in a concentration camp and lost his family at Auschwitz in 1944. His monuments are central to several former concentration camps as well as at Yad Vashem. Yugoslavia's foremost 20th Century sculptor, he died in 1997.
The Dachau memorial measures 50 x 300 ft. The centerpiece is a dark bronze sculpture measuring 52 ft long by 20 ft high with a depth of 4 ft. It is reached by a jagged ramp rather than a straight path meant to symbolize the jagged route to peace, tolerance, and understanding. At the entrance is a cornerstone placed in 1956The sculpture is bounded on the left by cement poles similar to those used for the barbed wire enclosure of the camp.
On the right three chain links are united by bars showing the unity of prisoners, most political. Emblazoned on this sculpture are triangles in the colors worn by the prisoners to describe their reason for incarceration. Far to the left, fronted by a granite block containing the ashes of Dachau victims, the words " Never Again" are written in 5 languages. This granite urn was placed in 1967 at the time of the opening of the Jewish Memorial Building.
The largest building in Dachau camp is the former Services Building, the center of camp activities. On its roof was the slogan - "There is a way to freedom. Its milestones are obedience, diligence, honesty, order, cleanliness, soberness, truthfulness, spirit of sacrifice, and patriotism." Today the building houses the Dachau Museum. A 20 minute documentary film is shown throughout the day, alternating German and English language versions, and is remarkable. Before entering the theatre, check out the exhibits of photos and documents, all labelled in 2 languages as well. They describe the camp history, living conditions, forced labor, punishments, and the categories of prisoners. Some depict the stories of individual inmates. One section is devoted to the rise of Naziism and a brief history of concentration camps ( first used in South Africa during the Boer wars - how strange that our tour guide was South African ). At the entrance to the exhibits is a striking sculpture ( Image 1 ) showing a line of prisoners, one fallen, others stumbling, all weak and starving. So far I cannot find out much about it on the Internet. It is a breathtaking work - summarizes the inhumanity of the camp system far more eloquently than mere words.
NOTE - This building houses the only public bathrooms on the Dachau camp.
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.
The entrance to Dachau is through a tree-lined walkway lined with multiple enlarged photographic images depicting life and death in the camps. Image 1 lies across from the bus stop, image 2 depicts the imprisoned welcoming the liberating American soldiers of the 42nd Rainbow Division commanded by Brig. General Henning Linden on 29 April, 1945. There are numerous other photographs well worthy of attention along the way.
Image 3 depicts the SS Officer's quarters from a distance, formerly a part of the abandoned munitions factory. It cannot be accessed today as it houses the offices of the Bavarian Rapid Response Police Unit.
Best seen from the entrance walkway is the tower in Image 4. These towers housed SS soldiers armed with machine guns against escape attempts.
Perhaps most interesting and just to the left of the main walkway is Image 5. This is all that remains of the railway and loading dock for the Dachau camp. The tour guides mention that the prisoners arrived at this dock on their way into the prison, but the narrow gauge track and dock was used almost exclusively for supplies and was too small to handle the regular train cars with the prisoners. Instead, the prisoners were forced to march from the Dachau main station several kilometers distant. Near the end of the war, as decreasing coal supplies and an increased number of deaths exceeded the capacity of the camp incinerators, cars were loaded with corpses from this dock and shunted onto railway sidings nearby. It is stated that the liberating forces found 30 rail cars filled with rotting corpses near the camp.
A long low building located behind the administration building today housing the Dachau Museum was the most feared place in the camp. A prison within a prison, its small single rooms were for "special care" prisoners, those singled out for Gestapo interrogation and torture. The interrogation rooms had hollow walls and double thickness doors to prevent the screams of the tortured from being heard. Most sent to the bunker were either high level enemies of the Nazi state or those condemned to death. Even for those released, confinement in the bunker was for protracted periods.
Included were twelve cells for the "standing punishment" - too small to sit or lie down in (70x70 cm), yet too large to rest the body vertically against a wall. Imprisonment here was more painful as it was usually proceeded by beating and whipping. The rooms were maintained in total darkness and only minimal rations were given every second or third day.
In the courtyard ( Image 4 ) behind the bunker, executions by hanging or firing squad were carried out. More bizarre punishments such as " pole hanging " also occured here. Pole hanging required twisting the arms behind the body and then hanging the body from the wrists with the potential for shoulder dislocation.
Visitors walk down the long narrow hallway and are allowed to look into but not enter the prison cells. Unless your guide is directly with you, it is difficult to appreciate the wall inscriptions written by or about the prisoners - we did not.
The Protestant Memorial, the Church of Reconciliation, was dedicated in 1967 based on plans by the German architect Helmut Striffler. His concept was to make everything about the church the exact opposite of the Nazi ideals of tradition and utter orderliness. The modern architecture is opposite to the classicism favored by the Nazis and the gravel enclosing the church similarly opposite classic beauty.
The chapel is below ground level and both the stairs and church follow curved and rounded designs, so opposite to the strict parallelism favored by the Nazis ( eg, the exact orientation of the bunkers ). Inside, the simple interior includes cold stone pews, four white flowers, and a simple candle.
The Catholic Church of the Mortal Agony of Christ (also translated at Christ's Mortal Fear) occupies the central position among the religious monuments. Most of the prisoners in Dachau over time, and certainly at the end of the war, were Catholic and mostly Polish resistance fighters and Russian Orthodox including a large number of priests. It was built in 1960 on the plans of German architect Joseph Wiedemann. It is a circular building 40 ft high and wide, with the front of the chapel open to the weather and through which a simple altar can be seen. It is covered with rocks from a nearby river. Rather than a cross, twisted iron bars at the top of the open front dominate the facade, called the Crown of Thorns. In 1961 a bell tower was added, to the left as the church is faced, with the cross atop a bell which appears inverted.
The arcane badge system used in Nazi prison camps is a minor feature which nonetheless offers insight into the warped minds of the monsters who created and administered the prison system. Each prisoner received a color coded triangular badge specifying his crime against the state. Holders of certain badges, such as yellow, garnered special harsh treatment by the camp guards.
Any badge backed by a yellow triangle became a 6-point Jewish star. Dashes and dots above and below the triangle indicated repeat offenders and those sentencek to penal colonies and subject to the harshest work assignments, respectively. Superimposed letters such as F for French, T for Czech, P for Pole were added to the primary triange. The color code included red for political prisoners, green for criminals, pink for homosexuals, black for the catch-all class of antisocials, brown for gypsies, and purple for Jehovah's Witnesses ( who refused Army service).
The badges featured in the International Memorial do not include the pink and green colors. Homosexuals are at least tolerated if not warmly welcomed in today's annual memorial celebrations, but they were not allowed to have even a small plaque in the museum until the mid-1980's. Their participation in current activites was delayed until activism made their exclusion difficult. Homosexuals were a target of special SS abuse during the Nazi period and their inclusion is long overdue.
Of course, it is unlikely that the green triangles for German criminals will ever be honored here.