Monday, May 19, 2008

Dachau - the Museum

After seeing the Jewish memorial I showed the kids the barbed wire fence, which still had some of the old electrical equipment attached. We walked back towards the Museum to meet Tamara. Along the way, as we passed the foundation for barracks 32 we found another token. The language was Dutch and we tried to guess what it said. The camera was full so I could not snap a photo.

At the museum exit I gave Tamara the kids and I walked towards the museum. In front of the museum is a large memorial. The memorial still had dozens of wreaths of flowers laying at the base from the commemoration of the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Dachau and the end of World War II that was celebrated in early May. I walked along the base and found the American wreath. There were many countries represented. You can see the tops of the wreaths in this picture as well as the museum in the background. Then the row of wreaths in the subsequent photo.

Here is the memorial and museum from a distance. The expanse of this roll call area (in front of the museum and memorial) struck me each time we walked through it. The next picture is a depiction of a night time roll call Tamara found in the museum.

Although I have seen many documentaries and films on the holocaust the museum was well done in that it was dedicated entirely to the history of the Dachau concentration camp. The history of Dachau is naturally set in the background of the history of the war, but the primary focus is on Dachau's history throughout the war. Seeing the horror that took place over the life of just one camp makes the experience that much more real.

Here are few tips for people touring the memorial. There is simply too much information to read, let alone digest, in one visit. All of the information is printed in English and in German. There is also an audio tour available for 3 or 4 Euros in several languages. Here is the entrance to the museum - it looks like a battered down hall, as it may have looked while Dachau was open. Prisoners were brought into this building for registration, which generally included beatings and brutal treatment.

Here are some of my impressions after walking through the museum.

At the beginning of the museum maps are displayed showing the many concentration camps and sub-concentration camps (satellite camps). They seem to be ubiquitous. Then I came upon a T.V. in a side room. A documentary containing interviews with survivors of the Dachau concentration camp was being played. The survivors spoke rather light heartedly about their experiences. That struck me.

Here is a brief summary from two of the interviews. A priest who had held a mass with some polish people spoke about his entrance to the camp. He said, when he arrived he buttoned up his coat all the way so as to hide his priestly collar. When asked what his crime was, he knew he had to answer without hesitation and with some whit. He said "friendly relations with the polish." The officer said - "what was her name!" and moved onto the next prisoner. The man laughed and said I made it into Dachau without getting beaten. He said the officers had beaten almost all the other prisoners, including those just before and just after him in line.

Another man was transfered to Dachau from Auschwitz. When he came into the camp he received a new prisoner number - different from the number he had in Auschwitz. It amazed me that he could remember both numbers without even batting an eye. He said he then was left alone for a time with the other arriving prisoners. They had a peak into one of the shower facilities. They were surprised, because there was an actual shower head, with water dripping. He and his fellow prisoners arriving that day were very enthusiastic, because they expected a gas chamber.

Next I remember seeing a display that explained that prisoners released early on were told - do not talk about the camp or any of the details about life in the camp. A scary part of the system of intimidation and annihilation.

Then the career paths of several of the SS soldiers stationed at Dachau were documented. This struck me as so odd - a career in such a field, with a resume, and references. It seemed so contrary to normal and humane relations. They noted the increased violence and death toll that came about during one prominent camp leader's administration and documented his career path in detail. I believe he was later sentenced to death at the Nuremberg Trials but do not remember the name.

I then read about some of the experiments they performed on the prisoners. One experiment attempted to answer the question - "how long can a soldier stranded in the ocean survive on salt water?" One of the prisoners who underwent the treatment survived, testified at the Nuremberg Trials and helped convict the men working in the camp. Additionally they injected all sorts of diseases into the prisoners to see how the human body responded. Tamara remembered that they wrapped mosquito nets around prisoners legs with malaria infected mosquitoes trapped in the nets to infect the prisoners with malaria.

The museum then talked about how they tortured prisoners - there were special tables for beatings and special racks used to hang the prisoners from the ceiling by their wrists. Horrid. I couldn't stay in this room very long. The quote from the torture table reads:

Whipping trestle with bullwhip: For beatings the prisoners were strapped over a wooden trestle and whipped by two SS men with a bullwhip. The prisoners had to count the blows aloud.

The items about torturing prisoners were in the former shower area of the prisoner processing center (now the museum).

One of the last item was the video recordings from the Americans after Dachau's liberation - wow. It was hard to watch after touring the museum. I've seen similar videos before, but it was tough to get through.

After that I thought I was done. There was one more section that I hadn't seen and wanted to go to and one building with prison cells that Tamara had mentioned, but I thought I was done with the pain. In my next post you'll see that I was desperately wrong.


The Ripley Porch said...

I went there in 1984 and spent three hours at the Museum. I eventually got to a point where I really needed to leave the's not a positive feeling in terms of standing there and grasping the history behind the place. I remember standing there about two hundred feet from the entrance, and simply feeling a chill. I have had no wish to return since that day.

Gardner said...

The emotions were stronger than I expected as well. I would like to go back when my children are older. That they might remember the story that is told there.

Maria said...

I remember like it was yesterday, and I want to return when my son is older too. To know history is to have a chance of not repeating. Not knowing history dooms us to its repetition.

March 2007