Updated: January 23rd, 2018
I know, I know—usually my blog posts are just side-splittingly hilarious and what am I doing writing about something as unfunny as visiting Dachau Concentration Camp? Well, because I believe it’s a story that needs telling.
On my first trip to Munich, Germany back in 2012, I decided on visiting Dachau Concentration Camp per a recommendation from a family member. Now, it’s something that I recommend to everyone. How can any of us put our problems or our good fortunes into perspective until we’ve experienced a place like this in person? We can’t possibly. For the most part, we know the stories; we’ve seen the movies; we’ve read the books—but to walk this place with your own feet is something truly surreal.
VISITING DACHAU CONCENTRATION CAMP | A LITTLE HISTORY
Dachau (pronounced Dak-ow) Concentration Camp. In 1933 Adolf Hitler took power and almost immediately opened a concentration camp for political prisoners in Dachau, Germany, just outside of Munich. Dachau bacome the first of approximately 20,000 concentration camps established by Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1945. Dachau was soon used as a model for all subsequent concentration camps and as the “murder school” for the SS. Of the 200,000+ prisoners at Dachau, 45,000 were murdered here. On April 29th, 1945 American troops liberated the surviving prisoners and began using the camp for arrested members of the SS.
VISITING DACHAU CONCENTRATION CAMP | HOW TO GET THERE
Visiting Dachau Concentration Camp is a must if you’re a WWII buff and anywhere near Munich, Germany. Which you should be at some point in your life because Oktoberfest.
For whatever reason, my husband and I thought it would be a totally fine idea to rent a car in a country we’d never been to that spoke a language we don’t speak. So we drove.
By car, visiting Dachau Concentration Camp from the center of Munich will take about 30 minutes. If you know what you’re doing on the Autobahn and don’t have a garbage car that tops out at 100 kph, probably a lot less. I don’t need to give you specific directions because this is 2018 and we all know how to use GPS and Google Maps to get where we need to go. There’s a parking lot on site (located next to the memorial at 75 Alte Römerstraße) and parking costs 3€ per car from March to October, and absolutely nothing from November to February.
Visitors’ Center Dachau Memorial Site
D – 85221 Dachau, Deutschland
BY PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
VISITING DACHAU CONCENTRATION CAMP | WHAT YOU’LL SEE
Once inside, you should reserve anywhere from 3-4 hours for visiting Dachau Concentration Camp (the guided tour itself–which I highly recommend–lasts 2.5 hours).
Note: Visiting Dachau Concentration Camp is not recommend for children under the age of 14.
THE MAIN ENTRANCE
Also known as the Jourhouse, the building that serves as the camp’s main entrance and exit also served as the SS administrative offices. It’s here you’ll find the iron gate displaying the SS motto: ARBEIT MACHT FREI — work will make you free. From the Dachau official website:
The SS had affixed the motto “Work will make you free” to the camp gate. The motto reflected the Nazi propaganda meant to trivialize the concentration camp for outsiders as a “labor and re-education camp.” The motto also characterized the cynical mentality of the SS, who implemented forced labor as a method of torture and as an extension of the terror of concentration life.
In November 2014 the gate with these words was stolen from the entrance of the camp and was found in Norway in December 2016. It February of 2017 it was finally returned to Dachau where it’s now displayed under glass while a replica takes its place at the entrance.
THE INTERNATIONAL MEMORIAL
In front of the Maintenance Building you’ll find the International Memorial — designed by Yugoslavian artist and concentration camp survivor Nandor Glid. It was officially dedicated in 1968 and is inscribed in many languages with: “May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933 and 1945 because of their fight against National Socialism unite the living in their defense of peace and freedom and in reverence of human dignity.”
THE MAINTENANCE BUILDING
Once used as the former maintenance building for the camp, this space now houses the main exhibitions of the memorial site. In this building you’ll learn all the history of the camp and of the building itself. Each room tells the story of itself through photos, videos, and the prisoners’ personal effects. (For real though, hide ya kids, hide ya wife.) You’ll see workshops and the prisoner kitchens and baths, as well as what is known as the “Shunt Room”–the room through which prisoners were first admitted into the camp through a brutal, demoralizing process.
ROLL CALL SQUARE
It was in this square outside the maintenance building that prisoners would be forced to take part in a twice daily roll call procedure that would last for hours, all while staring at the roof’s inscription: “There is one path to freedom. Its milestones are: obedience, honesty, cleanliness, sobriety, diligence, orderliness, self-sacrifice, truthfulness, love of the fatherland.”
The area was able to hold 40-50,000 prisoners at any given time.
There were once a total of 34 barracks inside the camp, now there are only two. Though the barracks have been destroyed, you can still find the concrete barriers marking where the barracks used to be. Inside the two that have been reconstructed for the memorial you can check out the exhibition showing the former setup inside the barracks and describing the prisoners’ strict daily routines. They’ve been set up as they once were when 30,000 prisoners (24,000 more than the camp was initially built to hold) were forced to live in these jam-packed conditions.
Camp Road divides the left and right sides of the camp and runs from the Maintenance Building to the religious remembrance sites and the crematoriums. The trees along this main pathway were planted by the prisoners themselves in an attempt by the Nazis to beautify the camp prior to a human rights inspection.
On your tour visiting Dachau Concentration Camp you’ll visit the camp’s two crematoria. These crematoria were used to dispose of corpses from the camp and were in operation all day and all night. That is, until they couldn’t keep up with demand and corpses were instead piled high inside and outside the buildings.
Also at the back of the site are the camp’s five religious memorials: the Mortal Agony of Christ Chapel, the Carmelite Convent, the Protestant Church of Reconciliation, the Jewish Memorial, and the Russian-Orthodox Chapel.
Visiting Dachau Concentration Camp presents a horrific picture of history and one that’s not necessarily easy to digest but, in my opinion, it’s something everyone should experience.
VISITING DACHAU CONCENTRATION CAMP | ESSENTIAL INFORMATION
ADMISSION: Always free
PARKING: On-site, 3€ per car
GUIDED TOURS: 2.5 hours long, 3,5€ (more info on times and languages here)
HOURS: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm daily (closed on 12/24)
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