Dachau Concentration Camp: Lessons for a lifetime
I meant to write this almost a year ago seeing as that’s when I got back from my excursion to Germany. Unfortunately, it took an episode of Band of Brothers to rekindle my urge to write about my experience at the Dachau Concentration Camp.
Although none of the original 34 barracks still stand (one has been recreated), a big part of the camp still remains, now turned into a museum. But the point of this post isn’t necessarily to describe the camp, so if you’re looking for a sketch of Dachau, your best bet is to go to their site.
What struck me most was a story our tour guide told us about a day not too dissimilar from that day on which we went to Dachau: 10 degrees Fahrenheit, snowing, and extremely windy. The guards did a role call multiple times a day, and it happened that during one of the role calls, someone was missing. Everyone in the camp was required to stand in formation for the next roughly 20 hours until the missing person was found.
We were told this story out in the yard in front of the main museum building. I was wearing 3 layers, my jacket, winter hat, and boots. I’m from New Hampshire, so I’m no stranger to the cold, but conditions that day were unbearable. I was hoping my body would just go numb. People in the camp, if they were lucky, had a top, a pair of pants, and wooden sandals. The uniforms ability to keep people warm probably matched that of a potato sack.
There I was freezing my ass off for what seemed like forever but was in actuality just half an hour. The whole time, all I could think of was that there were kids half my age, women, and elderly who did stand there forever.
This was only one recordable instance…I can only imagine how many times incidents like these actually took place. And the sad part was that, because Dachau was not an extermination camp, it was actually one of the more desirable camps, if it’s even acceptable to say that.
I find it somewhat ironic that even though I saw the crematorium which ran 24 hours a day, I walked through the gas chamber which was supposedly never used, and walked under the infamous gate that reads Arbeit macht frei (work will set you free), it was that story that affected me the most. I guess it’s probably because that’s what allowed me to make some connection with the people of the camp, even if I only felt the smallest fraction of the pain they endured.
Gives you a reason to relax a little bit the next time your iPhone doesn’t work or your flight gets delayed…at least you didn’t have to go through what they did.
I find myself writing less and less about the “academic” aspect of studying abroad which I’ve realized is due to the fact that the vast majority of what I learned didn’t take place in a classroom.
If you’re abroad in Europe, I strongly suggest doing everything you can to get to one of the internment camps, it will be a pretty life-changing experience.
If you have any other questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch!