Dachau Concentration Camp

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Dietrick Bonhoeffer

Today we are visiting Dachau. Everyone else on this trip but the guy I paid to drive me has backed out, they didn’t think they could handle it or just weren’t interested. In a way I’m not sure I can… but that is how it should be. You shouldn’t be able to handle the amount of evil that happened in this place, it should bring tears to your eyes and make your heart constrict. It should rip your heart out as your feet echo over the same places thousands of others walked and died, and as you walk out that gate where so many have before, it should leave you changed.

For years I’ve read books by and of the survivors of these camps, I’ve wanted to visit one for myself. I can’t explain why… maybe to understand what they felt, hated ripped from family and home, frightened. Maybe it was simply to put a picture with the books I’ve read. As we drew near, I was struck how normal the tree-lined street looked. No hint of the evil that lay beyond.

The sky seems too blue here, the cold air pushes us on and my feet crunch crunch crunch on the gravel. There are few here, here to experience this place or perhaps they are looking for something, meandering these silent paths, the crunching of their shoes the only sound wrapped in bubble coats and winter hats.

Concrete and wire, plain wood floors and bare bulbs. I can’t image how hopeless they must have felt… cold, sick and hungry. No one was coming to save them, God must have seemed so far away… You are so very powerless in a place like this with evil all around. Why did people wait? Why was it none of our business? Shouldn’t it have been?

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5 NIV

Images from Schindler’s List and Boy in the Striped Pajamas and Life Is Beautiful play in my head as we move through the buildings I can almost see them…

The man I paid to bring me here fidgets nervously. He is angry. He does not understand why I am here. Doesn’t understand the importance. I’m stunned silent to hear that he has never heard of concentration camps, doesn’t care. He just wants to leave.

I walk away from him. Drawn into the haunting stillness of the place. The horror of the place…

Barracks at Dachau concentration

Dachau was established in March of 1933, the first of many that would follow under the Nazi’s. Heinrich Himmler officially described the camp as “The first concentration camp for political prisoners”. It was built on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory.

Related Article: Visiting Nuremberg Part 1

Main building & gate at Dachau
Main building of the camp, prisoners entered the camp through this gate.

Initially, prisoners were German communists, social democrats, trade unionists and political opponents of the Nazis. Other prisoners were added to the mix over time -Jehova’s Witness, Roma’s (gypsies), Homosexuals and “Anti-Socials” and repeat offender criminals. During the early years, few jews were inturned here, those that were belonged to one of the groups or were convicted of violating the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 (Reichsburgergesetz -Law of the Reich Citizen- deprived Jews of German citizenship. Only Germans were considered citizens of the Reich. The second law Gesetz zum Schutze des Deutschen Blutes und der Deutschen Ehre -Law of protection of German blood and German honor- forbid the marriage between Jews and Germans. This law also prohibited the employment of maids of German descent under the age of 45 in Jewish households, and Jews from flying the German flag.

gate of Dachau

Early in 1937, the SS. began construction on a large complex on the grounds using slave labor. The prisoners slaved under horrible conditions until it was finished in mid-August 1938. The camp remained almost unchanged until 1945. The camp was a model camp for the others that followed and a training center for SS concentration camp guards.

With increased persecution, the numbers of Jewish prisoners soared, on November 10 – 11, 1938 in the aftermath of Kristallnacht more than 10,000 Jewish men were interned. Most were released after only a few weeks or months, many after proving they had made arrangements to emigrate from Germany.

The camp is divided into two sections,  the camp and crematorium area. The camp area consisted of 32  barracks including one for clergy imprisoned (in December of 1940 Berlin ordered the transfer of clerical prisoners held at other camps, making Dachau the center for the imprisonment of clergymen holding 2720, of those 1034 died or were killed) and one for medical experiments.

The camp administration was located near the gatehouse at the front gate, the camp also had a kitchen, laundry, showers, workshop and prison block. The courtyard between the prison and central kitchen was used for executions. An electrified barbed-wire fence, ditch and wall with 7 guard towers in circled the camp to prevent escapes.

Political prisoners cells

In 1942 the crematorium area was constructed next to the main camp, it would include the old crematorium and new barracks that would house a gas chamber. There is no evidence that the gas chamber in barracks x was ever used to murder human beings, instead, prisoners underwent “selection” those thought to be too sick or weak to continue working were sent to the Hartheim Castle “euthanasia” killing center near Linz Austria. Formerly a mental asylum the first 98 of its thousands of victims were taken to the gas chambers on January 15th. Family members of those murdered would receive fabricated death notifications many stating heart failure and circulatory collapse as the cause of death. By the time the Nazi’s ended the practice of killing the sick, weak and elderly in the gas chambers of the death castle in 1943 the castle had claimed 2,595 lives.

Camp barracks for prisoners sleeping quarters
These are the beds that the prisoners had to sleep in. There were enough for 200 in each but ended up housing 1200 men in each.

In Dachau as in other camps, Nazi doctors performed “medical experiments” on prisoners, including high-altitude experiments using a decompression chamber, malaria, hypothermia (by putting the men in water in freezing temperatures) and tuberculosis experiments and testing new medications. Prisoners were forced to test methods of making seawater potable and halting excessive bleeding. Hundreds were killed or permanently disabled from these experiments.

 

Holocaust memorial
Sculpture in honor of the dead.

 

The prisoners of Dachau first employed in building the camp were forced to build roads, work in gravel pits and drain marshes. In summer and fall of 1944 to increase war productions satellite camps under Dachau administration were established near armaments factories throughout southern Germany. More than 30 subcamps in which 30,000 prisoners worked almost exclusively on armaments. Thousands of prisoners were worked to death in these subcamps.

Catholic memorial
Looking at the Catholic Memorial the Catholic Victims

As Allied forces advanced toward Germany, the Nazi’s began moving prisoners from camps near the front to prevent the prisoners from being liberated. Transports from the evacuated camps arrive continuously resulting in deteriorating the already horrible conditions. After days of travel with little to no food or water, the prisoners arrived weak and exhausted often near death. Typhus epidemics swept the overcrowded camp.

Prison barracks foundations
Foundations of the many rows barrack’s are all that remain here at Dachau.

April 26, 1945, American 42nd & 45th infantry division and 20th armored division approached the camp. Fleeing the oncoming liberators, more than 7,000 prisoners were forced on a 70-mile death march to Tegernsee. Any who could not keep up were shot, many died of starvation cold or exhaustion along the way.

fence ditch and guard towers
Armed Nazi guards stood one watch 24 hrs a day in the seven guard towers in the Dachau camp while two rows of electric fencing surrounded them.

On April 28, just hours before liberation a train and 40 cars arrived, it had left Buchenwalk four weeks earlier on April 7th filled with more than 5,000 prisoners. 2,000 parished on the circuitous route that took them from Thuringia through Saxony to Czechoslovakia and into Bavaria. Only 816 prisoners survived the trip.

Crematorium
One of the two crematoria buildings at the Dachau Camp


On April 29, 1945, American forces liberated the camp, as they approached the camp they discovered more than 30 railway cars filled with the bodies of prisoners brought to Dachau and forgotten in the haste to retreat. In early May of 1945 American forces liberated those forced on the death march to Tegernsee.

The number of prisoners incarcerated at Dachau for the 12 years it was in operation exceeds 188,000, the number of those who died in it or one of its many subcamps is believed to be greater than 28,000.

Statue of the unknown prisoner
To The Dead To The Reverent To The Reminder…

Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Deuteronomy 4:9 NIV.

End of log.
Mr. Cottage

 Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

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