Today we sober up from the Munich palaces and an unpronounceable Scheurebe white wine with a visit to Dachau’s concentration camp. We link a train and shuttle and then shuffle through snow and suburbs. Then the duplexes stop abruptly at a wall.
Our guide takes us to the gate. A touching speech details the long, suffering walk, the harassment, the end of 32,000 lives.
We enter the cold courtyard, where Nazis roll-called and gave Jews and other minorities their daily forced labor.
Himmler founded Dachau to house political prisoners and rebellious clergy. A building of dorm-like rooms soon imprisoned important prisoners of war thought worthy of ransom. This was about as fancy a stay as one could get.
We trudge back to the courtyard and discuss the various memorials. One depicts the arm badges used to identify the prisoner as Jewish, Jehovah’s Witness, communist, criminal, emigrant, race polluter, and idiot. However, it still omits pink triangle worn by homosexuals…times change too slowly…
Bodies crammed in here and used communal toilets and wash basins. There were no heaters. We cross the compound, as prisoners once did, their one moment of daily reprieve. Trenches and electrified fences provided one the easiest “escape”.
We reach the gas chambers and furnaces, where countless bodies were disposed of.
We head back to the museum, which overwhelms our small group with endless placards detailing statistics, personal stories, and displays.
Exhausted, a setting sun tints our departure with the first warmth we have seen all day.
Back in high school, when I watched videos of the graves and bodies, one classmate broke into uncontrollable laughter. This history is so extreme, so surreal, that as reflex we find it hard to believe. However, visiting empty Dachau in the dead of winter makes it all too real.
Next post, we shed Germany for Austria, Mozart, and fantastic wine and beer.