Dachau is a fairly ordinary town-cum-suburb. There's new bits and
older bits. And right in the middle of the older bit is a huge car park
and a path that leads along the wall of the Dachau
At the start of the path is a bus-stop looking thing with a plaque.
Alongside the path are the foundations of a long building. It reminds
me of something I remember from my childhood - some ruins that are
along the beach at Lepe. Not that
there's a beach, mind you. But there is the same concrete floored,
long, straight building only now visible from its foundations. This
one's a guard house for the camp. Ironically, the one at Lepe is one of
the places that they built the Mulberry harbours for the D-Day invasion.
In front of the entrance is what's left of a small railway yard.
The concrete ramp and the rails are more depressing, in a way, than
those awful marshalling yards at Birkenau. Those were almost a grand
statement of designed deadliness. These more speak more of misery, of
despair, of shuffling souls and petty despots.
Turning to go in, we're confronted by gates and that inscription again:
Macht Frei'. Its a creepy feeling, not made better by the giggling
girls taking turns to stand behind the gates and have their photographs
taken. It may be bright and sunny but those gates make things darker.
We walk through and into the yard of this ex-munitions factory. Most of
the buildings remain but the wooden prisoner huts have more or less
gone. Like Birkenau, just one row remains. All the guard towers remain.
administrative blocks and the prison camp's prison (is there a
much more absurd concept?) are now the museum. This is a substantially
better presented affair than that at Auchwitz, although without the
dramatic and hard-hitting items like the wall of hair. Jerry notices a
grimly satisfying fact: the town of Dachau welcomed and wanted the
camp. They thought it would bring employment and money into the area.
It didn't - everything was run centrally. Dachau gained nothing except
a nasty reputation.
After this thoroughly well done museum we walk through the huts that
remain and down to the back of the site. The
people that were everywhere seem to have mainly left. Almost empty,
somehow the place feels worse. Thing is, this place is a labour camp,
not an extermination camp. It
was the first of the camps, a model for many of the others. The
prisoners still died in large numbers, although only a comparative few
died in the gas chamber (yes, there is one). Living here was no picnic,
no cakewalk. No cake at all. The camp staff were brutal and the rations
were short. There were torture facilities in the prison blocks (they're
The path goes off between the trees in the corner of the site. Walking
through there, we pass a statue to the
prisoners. Its a sort of "statue to the unknown prisoner" and a
curiously powerful image.
Round the corner, there's a low, single storey building.
This contains steaming units for clothes, a changing area, the gas
chamber and the ovens. Walking through
the gas chamber is a decidedly unpleasant experience. Nevertheless I
felt it would be cowardice to walk away. The ghoul behind me took
photos in there. I couldn't. Things were too brutal. They used to hang
prisoners right in front of the ovens. More convenient for disposal,
I need to get out of this place and head for the exit. I can't cope
with the contrast between the camp and the town and I want to leave