The day started off with the 20 minute train ride to Dachau station, and then a 5 minute bus ride to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. We had a 2 hour tour of the site from a German tour guide. May 1 is a holiday in Germany (Labour Day) so there were a lot of tourists and other groups at the site this day, but less German school groups (who have to do a number of visit throughout their school years).
The tour enters through the main gate, giving us the perspective of how it felt to be herded through the entrance, and then the feeling of being caged in when the gate was shut. Over the entrance were the words ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’- Work will make you free, a slogan that Hilter used for many of his concentration camps. This particular camp was first used as a propaganda camp, where high profile political opposers were kept and later set free.
Walking through the gate you get a view of the empty main area where role call would have been taken every morning and evening. Most of the original barracks were destroyed after WWII because of structural damage but 2 have been rebuilt, along with the foundations of the others. These were built to hold 6,000 people but at it’s peak Dachau held 40,000.
The tour then led us through the camp towards the crematoriums (there were 2), which were hidden just outside the main camp area where the prisoners could not see them (even though some were made to work here). The crematorium also held the gas chamber which was built but never used in Dachau due to the need for more labour later in the war.
After, our guide took us to the museum (formerly a maintenance building) where we saw a 30 minute film about Dachau. This was the moment for a lot of people where they could truly feel the horrors that were committed in the very area we were all sitting, and one of the most emotional moment of the tour.
Then we were lead to the prison (those of us who didn’t get lost that is, some of the group were so moved by the film that they literally were moved right out the door and showed up 15 minutes later). The prison is an enigma in a camp that is already a prison in itself, this area was used to punish or break down the prisoners who generally did not return after their sentence. The memorial work done in the prison showed projections or photos in the prison of inmates kept in specific cells that shared details such as why they were held, for how long, and whether they ever left the camp. This made the tour very real, associating real people with the ground we were standing on and the specific cells we were in, knowing their names and their faces, knowing their stories- it created a sense of fear and grief for the people kept here. The visit gave us a greater sense of understanding of German history and the feelings that some still have about the events that took place during WWII.
After the tour was over we took the bus back to town and had lunch at the Hotel Fischer for a traditional German lunch served by waitresses in dirndl. It was Ariel’s birthday so we got her an apfel strudel in real German style and sang her happy birthday.
Then we all caught separate trains to wherever we had chosen to spend the afternoon. Some of the group moved on to Schloss Nymphenburg (the palace in Munich), while our group decided to visit the English Gardens, a park in the centre of Munich that is larger than central park. Thankfully the weather cleared up for a beautiful afternoon and we all spent the rest of the day exploring some piece of Munich.