III. Dachau Concentration Camp: Death shall set you free

European Delivery, My Little Odyssey

Chapter 3

Dachau Concentration Camp: Death shall set you free

It has been so hard for me to write about Dachau Concentration Camp. But I have to write about it. It was my intention to do so, my duty.

Dachau concentration camp, half an hour from Munich, was the first official Nazi concentration camp in Germany. It was not intended to be the ‘killing’ site, but rather an internment camp before 200,000+ prisoners were sent off from here over the 12-year period ‘to be killed’ at various extermination camps  including the notorious Auschwitz. So the number of recorded death toll here was ‘only’ 30,000, mainly from starvation, diseases and suicide. Still, since I’ve never been to any other concentration camp, Dachau is by far the most horrid place I’ve ever been to.

The entrance gate with the infamous sign, ‘Arbeit macht frei’ or ‘work sets one free.’ What a paradox for the Nazi to put this slogan in front of a concentration camp where only DEATH could set one free.  Tod macht frei.

In the museum, we saw these heartbreaking pictures. And I had to cry. Actually I am tearful now as I’m writing this. I don’t need to describe what had happened there. More than any word can say. The pictures speak for themselves.

Then we got to watch the documentary. More tears to shed :).

Memorial 1933-1945: 12 years of living hell

“May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933 – 1945 because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living in the defence of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow men.”

On April 29, 1945 when the American Army came to liberate Dachau, they were shocked to find 32,000 survivors crammed in 20 small barracks @ 1,600 each. They were also horrified by piles of countless dead bodies who died from typhus epidemic and starvation. (By the end of the war, the conditions deteriorated and at its worst, 200 prisoners died  daily.) You can see how small the barracks were from the above black and white picture. Here are the foundations of the barracks. 1,600 people in EACH of these? I can’t imagine.

Such a pitiful and horrid sight triggered a few American soldiers to commit the ‘Dachau Massacre’, killing some German camp guards AFTER the surrender. This event is portrayed in a first-rate thriller, ‘Shutter Island‘ starring Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio was haunted by the sight of piles of dead bodies at Dachau. It was later revealed that DiCaprio was the one who started shooting the camp guards out of anger. No, I’m not spoiling the film. This is nothing compared to what is to come from DiCaprio’s haunted memories. ‘Shutter Island’ is so good. I watched it twice and now want to watch it again. Oh, I have just turned this post into a movie review. (BTW, the Dachau Massacre really happened on the day of liberation, not just a scene from the movie. Just want to make that clear.)

Inside one of the remaining barracks. I think these beds were recreated for display, not actual ones, because they look so new.

The infamous ‘Brausebad’ sign or ‘shower bath’. The prisoners were tricked to enter this room, thinking they would get to shower. But instead, it was the gas chamber that awaited them. I wonder if the ‘Arbeit macht frei’ sign at the gate was intended the same way: to trick prisoners to think that if they obeyed the Nazi and worked diligently in the camp, their ‘work shall set them free’.

Inside the gas chamber. There have been debates whether the gas chamber had actually been in use. It was only built in 1942. And some believed that it had never been used for mass executions for some unknown reasons. Back in the ’90s, they put a signage stating that the gas chamber had never been in use. But since then, the signage had disappeared. The controversies remain these days as witnesses had given different accounts regarding this. Well, it looks pretty new but spooky, nevertheless.

This is where dead bodies were incinerated. The incinerators must have been in use non-stop when the death rate peaked at 200 bodies per day.

There are a few churches of different faiths and one synagogue on site.

After touring this sad, depressive site, don’t forget to end your visit in a calm and peaceful church of your choice. Meditate and pray for the deceased.

I lit a candle and dedicated it to those who had suffered in Dachau. May they forgive as the Lord has forgiven them and may they rest forever in peace.

The Lord bless you and keep you,
The Lord lift His countenance upon you,
And give you peace, and give you peace,
The Lord make His face to shine upon you,
And be gracious unto you, be gracious,
The Lord be gracious, gracious unto you.
Amen.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHBeRutj76o

This Benediction suddenly appeared in my mind as I was writing. The verse is simple, gracious and transcendental. You can feel the Lord’s presence as you recite/sing. The a cappella choir in the youtube link above sang beautifully too. It reminds me of my high school a cappella choir because we also sang this benediction at the end of the Fall concert. Even after 10++ years, I still remember every single note. (I’m an alto.)

BTW, have you seen the ever-popular musical series, ‘Glee’? The funniest thing is that I have only recently (like 2 weeks ago) found out that ‘Glee’ is set in a fictional high school in Lima, Ohio. (Why on earth did they pick Lima, Ohio as the setting of the series, I have no idea.) But that fictional high school in the series is supposed to be my high school, Lima Shawnee High School. What a small world! The show focuses on the high school choir (known as  ‘Glee Club’ in the series). That makes ME one of the ‘Glee Club’ alumni. Lol.

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Oh well, back to our story eiei. How come I started the post with tears in Dachau and ended it with laughter and glee club in Ohio? :P

The next post will be about our journey on the Romantic Road to the Cinderella Castle. I’m not quite sure what to write actually. It is one of the most popular tourist sites in Bavaria, but to tell you the truth, after a year, I don’t have much memory of it left! Hope I manage to write something up and won’t just show pictures and make it the most boring post in this trip!

(BTW, I’m not a Christian. But I know that ‘the Lord bless me and keep me’. ;))

Amen.

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8 comments on “III. Dachau Concentration Camp: Death shall set you free

  1. Loren Rhoads says:

    Thank you for writing so thoughtfully about Dachau. I’m not sure I’m strong enough to visit there myself, but I did go to Theresienstadt/Terezin, which was a “work camp” outside of Prague. That was a really difficult experience in itself.

  2. sutira says:

    Hi Loren, thank you for your comment. Visiting Dachau was an eye-opening experience for me, so I meant to write something thoughtful and meaningful about it.

  3. Loren, this is so so weird! I started reading your blog, beginning with the Denali trip–because we want to take the boys next summer! Then as I scrolled down, I saw the Dachau post. Hubs and I went there in 89. I will never forget it. My mother was with us, it put a damper on the rest of the day. It really stuck with us. Great post, and photos! Can’t wait to read more!

  4. Oops, was reading the wrong line for the name! Not Loren, but Sutira! Sorry about that!

    • sutira says:

      Hey, no prob! I’m glad you liked it. Dachau is not a typical place to visit, but it’ll just stick with you.

      For how long will you plan to visit Alaska? We were there for about 2 weeks and went to Denali, Fairbanks, Talkeetna, Whittier, Girdwood, Seward and Anchorage. The next post (Fairbanks) will be up soon! Thanks for following.

  5. amelie88 says:

    I visited Dachau in April and the blog post I wrote about the trip was difficult to write, like you mentioned. I knew even before I went to Munich that I was going to visit it. It was definitely a difficult experience but I’m glad I took the time to go. Great blog post and great pictures too!

    • sutira says:

      Hi amelie,
      Thank you for your comment. I just read your post about Dachau. Great post and thoughts! And yes, we did really feel similarly, both as a visitor and as a writer.

  6. Lynne Ayers says:

    Doesn’t seem right to hit the ‘like’ button on this — horrible sights but I think it is important to bear witness.

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