Saturday, 12 August 2017

Dachau Concentration Camp remains

Dachau Concentration Camp was the first of the Nazi concentration camps opened in Germany, intended to hold political prisoners. It was built on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory from World War I, Northeast of the medieval town of Dachau, about 16 km northwest of Munich in the state of Bavaria, in southern Germany. Heinrich Himmler opened the camp in 1933; its initial purpose was forced labour, and then the imprisonment of Jews, German and Austrian criminals, and eventually foreign nationals from countries occupied or invaded by Germany. The Dachau camp system grew to include nearly 100 sub-camps, which were mostly work camps and were located around southern Germany and Austria. The camps were liberated by U.S. forces on 1 May 1945.

Prisoners lived in constant terror of brutal treatment including standing cells, floggings, tree hangings, and standing at attention for extremely long periods of time. There were 32,000 documented deaths at the camp, but thousands went undocumented.
Approximately one third of the 30,000 prisoners were sick at the time of liberation.
In the post-war years the Dachau camp held SS soldiers awaiting trial. After 1948, it held Germans who had been expelled from eastern Europe and were awaiting resettlement, and was used for a time as a United States military base. It was finally closed in 1960.
There are several religious memorials within the Memorial Site, which is open to the public.
The Jourhaus (pictured above) served as the main exit and entrance to the prisoners’ camp and as the main office of the camp SS personnel. This is where the prisoners first entered the camp and later marched through each day with their labour units. The gatehouse separated the prisoners from the outside world.
The prisoners' entrance was secured by an iron gate with the motto “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work will make you free”). This reflected Nazi propaganda, which trivialized concentration camps as labour and re-education camps.  In actual fact forced labour was used as a method of torture.

As one entered the camp, the huge administration building was on the right. Painted in large letters on the roof was the slogan:

There is one road to freedom and its milestones are
Obedience,  Diligence, Honesty, Order  Cleanliness, Temperance, Truth, Sacrifice
and love of one’s country

The prisoner enclosure of the camp was heavily guarded to prevent prisoners escaping. There was a  3-metre-wide no-man's land which guards in towers protected. Immediate entry would result in death by shooting. Despondent prisoners committed suicide by entering the zone. A 1.2 × 2.4 m stream, connected with the river Amper, lay on the west side between the “neutral-zone” and the electrically charged, and barbed wire fence which surrounded the entire prisoner enclosure.

As early as 1935, a jingle went around: "Dear God, make me dumb, That I may not to Dachau come" ("Lieber Herr Gott, mach mich stumm, Das ich nicht nach Dachau komm'").

Dachau was the concentration camp that was in operation the longest from March 1933 to April 1945, nearly all twelve years of the Nazi regime. Dachau's close proximity to Munich, where Hitler came to power and where the Nazi Party had its official headquarters, made Dachau a convenient location.

Theodor Eicke was appointed commandant and he was responsible for drawing up detailed regulations which covered all aspects of camp life, which later became the  for all concentration camps these regulations were adopted, with local regulations for all Concentration camps.

Eicke developed, in Dachau, an institution that was intended, by its very existence, to spread fear among the population, an effective tool to silence every opponent of the Nazi regime. 

All prisoners  lost their legal status as they entered the camp. They also lost their possessions, their hair was shaved off, and they had to wear a uniform of striped clothes. They were given a number as well as a coloured triangle, indicating what type of category they belonged to. The daily routine was filled with exhausting work, hunger, and terror of the brutality of the sadistic SS guards.

This is where the prisoners' roll call would be held. This could take hours both morning and evening.

The Nazis also used prisoners as subjects in brutal medical experiments. For example, inmates were forced to be guinea pigs in a series of tests to determine the feasibility of reviving individuals immersed in freezing water. For hours at a time, prisoners were forcibly submerged in tanks filled with ice water which killed some of the prisoners.

Inside the remaining buildings there is information on the concentration camp and the bunker.
"There were three detention buildings (called “bunkers”) in the Dachau concentration camp. The first, improvised building contained five cells; in the fall of 1933 a former toilet block was converted into a series of cells for 20 prisoners. As part of the camp redevelopment in 1937/38 a prison with 136 cells was build behind the maintenance building, replacing the first two cell blocks.
The third bunker is the only building still preserved today. It is part of the Memorial Site and a small exhibition there provides information on the history of the detention buildings in the Dachau concentration camp and the fate of those imprisoned there.the bunker.corridors with various cells. which were used to incarcerate prisoners as punishment. Detention in the bunker was a method that enabled the SS to isolate rebellious and defiant prisoners, confine and expose them to harsher prison conditions outside the reach of their fellow prisoners, and to torture or indeed murder them." (Dachau website)

The Barracks, which housed most of the inmates have been destroyed, but markers with numbers on show where the barracks once were.

After 1942, Dachau was also used for SS medical experiments. (It was never a mass-extermination camp, although an estimated 43,000 prisoners died from starvation, illness, or execution before the U.S. Army liberated the camp in 1945.)

Towards the rear of the site are religious memorials. The Jewish Memorial to the right of the Mortal Agony of Christ Chapel was dedicated on May 7, 1967.

The Mortal Agony of Christ Chapel from 1960 was the first religious monument to be erected.

The Protestant Church of Reconciliation was dedicated on April 30, 1967.

                                                 The Cross of Coventry.

A reconstruction of what the sleeping quarters would have been like.

The second crematorium. I really did not like this place and had a bad feeling in there and had to go back outside immediately.

This was the first crematorium.

                                       And we return back to the Jourhaus. This is one of those places that really makes you think. I can't even begin to imagine how awful and terrifying a place it must have been to be imprisoned here. It is beyond belief. Very sobering but for me, important to acknowledge and visit to pay my respects to those who perished here. There are no words to convey this . . .

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