Sunday, November 15, 2009


I just ran across an old journal I kept when I was a 19 year old kid traveling in Europe for the first time. About a week into the trip , while in Munich, West Germany, I visited the Dachau concentration camp museum. My notes:

January 7--Munich-Dachau:
A concentration camp, I have found, looks quite similar to an army barracks--that is--twenty-five years after being used...Dachau was the scene, from 1933 through 1945, of 31,591--or more--deaths: mainly Jews, Russians, or German resisters. I walked to the gate with a South African acquaintance, who was in the midst of a two-week whirlwind tour of Europe...
We first entered the museum, which resides in the main building at the head of an area that used to be barracks. In front of these stands the "roll-call" area, where prisoners used to be tortured--after anyone managed to escape--by being forced to stand at attention for one night and half a day.
The museum mainly consists of documents and pictures that have been blown up and posted within two or three large rooms, rooms that were used for storage. In a pinch, when there was a scarcity of room, these were torture chambers. The pictures digress from the original building of Dachau through the first prisoners in 1933, to 1938. They finally end in some photos of starving, bony men cheering as they are freed, and the aftermath when American soldiers find "the morgue" full of hundreds of dead bodies.
My friend and I walk down the rows of barracks, all gone now except for two or three; we walked where thousands of hungry, tired prisoners walked, or trudged, or crawled. At the end of the lane, to the left and through a gate, stands a statue of a hungry, dirty POW. Behind it is The Building. We walked in through an empty room to the Ovens. A sign hanging from a large wooden support read, "Prisoners were hung here." This was directly in front of the third of five ovens. There were open, showing what amounted to a great baker's oven, seven feet long and two feet wide. Walking through this room into the next, I felt something akin to depression as I tried to imagine the attitudes and consciousness of men accustomed to seeing others being tortured and hung. I couldn't imagine it.
We entered "The Showers" which were never used at Dachau (the showers at the Hartheim Castle, near Linz Austrian, were apparently "much better"). These are actually gas chambers, disguised so that prisoners wouldn't kick up a fuss while being taken there, etc. It is just an empty room with several holes in the ceiling, from which gas would have come.
And that was all. It didn't impress one, all clean and tidy, as being a dangerous unusual place. But the story behind it all makes one imagine that one sees machine guns and Nazis in the towers, and that one hears trudging footsteps, and a voice crying out in total, frustrated despair. I left quietly.

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