I never did post, in my travel blog, about my visit to Dachau. It’s something I’m going to post about now, not because I can’t think of anything else to write about, but because it’s important.
I had been wanting for a long time to visit a concentration camp. I’ve always been interested in learning about the Holocaust, not so much the mechanics of it, but about the people affected. The ones in the camps, the ones peering down at the camps from tall, gunned towers, and the ones who hid from the camps, both successfully and unsuccessfully. So when my study abroad group visited Munich, I decided to jump ship and abandon the churches tour in favor of the camp.
Dachau Concentration Camp is only about 30 minutes by train and by bus from Munich. We didn’t miss the dark irony of taking a train out to such a place, and the closer we got, the more solemn everyone became. My stomach actually started to ache as we squeezed onto the bus and began hurtling toward the camp itself.
When the bus dropped us off at the KZ-Dachau stop, we couldn’t see anything. There was a sign,
and there was a visitors’ center immediately on the left, but besides that, we could only see the wide road ahead. It was lined with thin woods on either side.
We walked up a little farther up the road, and came to the remains of the railroad which had shipped prisoners to and from the camp (you can see the platform on the left):
And then we turned to the right, and saw the gates of Dachau. The gates were iron, and twisted into the middle part were the words “Arbeit Macht Frei,” or, “Work Makes One Free.”
This was eerie on its own, seeing the iron-wrought sign I had read about in so many books, but the very moment I passed through the gates and into the camp, a huge gust of wind blew into my face. It was only the kind of wind, I suppose, that blows across large open spaces, but the timing of it was what struck me. I was walking through the same gates that arriving prisoners had walked through, that guards and Nazi officers had walked through, that U.S. soldiers, come to liberate, had walked through. I was so freely and casually strolling through gates that had clanged shut behind so many thousands of people. 30,000 of those people, 30,000 of those innocent, ordinary people, would never get to walk back out again.
I don’t think that anyone knows what to expect when visiting such a place. Obviously there is going to be some sort of emotional reaction, but you don’t know what is going to trigger it, or how. I wondered if I would actually cry, or if I would be shocked and angered at the atrocities committed. I wondered if it would be hard to see things, or if I would be interested, as I am in most museums.
What I felt, in the end, was quiet. The entire time I was at Dachau, I didn’t want to speak to anyone. I just wanted to look by myself.