As you’re aware, this blog focuses on technology, gadgetry and today’s multi-faceted, multi-platform world.
Today’s post though, looks not at technology, gadgets or even organisations. This evening, your attention is bought to Germany, Dachau in particular, where over seventy years ago a concrete hell was established.
Dachau, the very name strikes every sombre note available. A short bus ride from the Dachau S-Bahn train station concludes with a narrow drive through a twisting road, seemingly too tight for the Bendy Bus. Upon alighting, you are greeted by an engraved sign, which signals that you have arrived.
The freezing air quickly becomes an ally to the dark past held beyond the black gates. Walking on past the cold slab of metal, the winter leaves crunch under your footsteps, and the silent whispers of other visitors is all that separates you from a deathly silence. The journey continues to the main gate, which is what the prisoners would have seen upon arrival at Dachau. ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’, translating to ‘labour makes (you) free’, stands out against the solid black of the gates.
One must wonder, how many poor souls walked, lifeless, through these gates. Just knowing that for many, this would be their final stop, the last journey they would make. Upon passing through the gate, the vast roll-call area is covered by a blanket of grit and sand, loose gravel jumps to life as you walk across to the main office area, now an area which exhibits the terrifying acts carried out by the camp SS Men.
Stepping into the building immediately transports you back to 1933, the cold grey walls, unpainted, with little to signify any reprieve for the prisoners. The cold seeps through the walls, and takes the room down to a sub-zero temperature, while the exhibits loom, illuminated by weak lighting. Walking through the building shows a moderated account of the conditions of the camp during its tenure, and the torture endured by the prisoners – the journey through the building is a cold, dark one. You reach the communal shower rooms, where inmates were bathed – the remains of the plumbing, running through the room. Echoes bounce off the concrete walls, now rendered and painted white, presumably to lock away a dark past.
Shortly after this, the exit looms, and the eerie openness of the roll-call court appears once again, like a desert, it seems to stretch on beyond the horizon. A slow walk across to the bunkers showcases the ‘beds’ on which prisoners slept – hard, wooden structures – hardly a place to rest a tortured body. All but two of the bunkers have been taken down, and the front two have been reconstructed, as they were in poor physical condition, numbered marker stones show where the other bunkers once stood.
The walk past the bunkers is strange, a ghostly atmosphere haunts the area, and the trees continue to watch, just as they did all those years ago.
Approaching the end of the walk, the only part left to see is the crematorium, and its preceding gas chamber. The cold is now biting at you, as you feel the wind pass through you, entering the next building offering little respite from the icy temperatures.
Walking on, you enter the gas chamber – while it is disputed, that there were no mass killings in these chambers, the dingy, dark tiled room feels different to the rest of the camp. An uneasy feeling, somewhat ghostly envelopes you, as you make your way through the chamber. To think that it was designed to hold 150 prisoners prior to gassing is horrifying.
Exiting this building feels like a burden lifted off your shoulders – it is a space that was built with evil intentions, and those intentions followed their unforgiving creators to their ends.
Leaving the camp memorial, one can only wonder that over 75 years ago, buses and trains bought people here against their will, for many, their last journey. Today, we visit, using both buses and trains at our own free will.
For anybody visiting Munich, a visit to Dachau is unmissable, if only to understand further the limits, or not so, of the human mind.