Monday, April 18, 2016

Dachau in a day

So, today we went to Dachau.
I want to begin with our experiences leading up till this day, but I believe Dachau deserves a write up of its own so I will leave the other until next time, maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow, depending on how I go for time.

We returned to the main train station aka Hauptbahnhof München this morning hoping to go on yet another tour... 
Yesterday we had the delightful pleasure of travelling with the extremely historical knowledgeable tour guide, Ludwig, so he calls himself for the day, but unfortunately today, our potential Irish tour guide informs us there are not enough people as we wait to go on the tour to Dachau so we are to travel there unguided and do the tour ourselves.
Whilst we wait for this information, I noticed an African fellow sitting on the floor next to where we are standing, initially very quiet, almost asleep it seems. All of a sudden he awoke and made a move to get up but was unable to do so. He actually rolled over a couple of times, got to his knees then proceeded to stand with the assistance of a metal rail. Once he had found his feet that wanted to go in the opposite direction to where his head was heading, he then found his voice and began to berate those around him, taking a swipe at a poster advertising the tours we were to take, knocking it over. Once he laughed at his own folly and everything else, he then stumbled over to a plant shop nearby and in full view of everyone, voided into the plants outside the shop, laughing once again as he did so.
People then moved away as police made a belated appearance and escorted him off the premises, much to the dismay of the florist who was most displeased about her urinated-upon plants.
Not sure what she was going to be able to do about her potted tulips and gardenias as there is no facility within this complex to hose the plants down. I would have been pretty pissed myself if I was her!
Anyhow, once again, I digress.

Our erstwhile tour guide apologised for not taking us to Dachau but kindly assisted us in purchasing train tickets (which we probably didn't even bloody need) and before we knew it we were on the train and we're off.
The ride there took all of 15 minutes from Munich and Dachau was the first stop so we were standing iwaiting for a bus to take us to the Concentration Camp before we knew it.
The bus took us about 10 minutes also. 
Interesting that we have all the comforts of the world with trains and buses, whereas 83 years ago 'political' prisoners had to walk to a beat not of their own making and if they fell by the wayside were left to die.

We walked in to an amazingly beautiful place. It has been raining here today and the local birds were making the most of the wet weather. Our footsteps scrunch as we walk along the path to the entrance and even though there are hundreds of others here as well, there is a hush. People are respectful and there is no laughing, no yelling, no children running and playing, no one taking selfie photographs for a change.
It is peaceful and yet because we know what has happened in this past, there is an underlying sense of horror which is inexplicable.
The place in parts is green and as described before, breathtakingly beautiful. Other areas where the barracks were is stark in its reality and there are frequent reminders of what was.
We acquired audio sets on our entrance that pick out areas that we might not have realised as we travel through......  railway lines that led to crematoriums, man-made hills that blocked the views in days gone by from people passing by. 
The iron gates leading from the path into the camp have a statement saying "ARBEIT MACHT FREI" meaning "WORK WILL SET YOU FREE" which as we know it now is a lie, for not many that entered these gates were freed voluntarily.
Dachau was not only a concentration camp for many men of the Jewish faith, but also those that rebelled against the reich, such as priests, and politicians who opposed Hitler's movement,  those that did not fit into the ideology of the gestapo and their cronies. It was also a training centre for the SS, where recruits were indoctrinated into the system which nurtured and encouraged the torture, humiliation and killing of the prisoners.
It is hard to reconcile this place to what would have been hell on earth for many there. The barracks that once housed hospitals that used prisoners forcibly for experimentation are no longer there, just plaques to remind us of what happened once.
There are barracks still standing to give you the impressions of what it was like in rooms that were supposed to house 200 men, but ended up housing over 2000. 
The supposedly never used death shower rooms remain to this day as a reminder of what was. The crematoriums remain also as do the areas where thousands upon thousands of men's ashes are buried with plaques again commemorating those that lie there. 
There is so much to take in that I weep a little at the magnitude of it all.

Time and time again I ask myself how man could be so callous and cruel and cold towards his fellow human being. I find it incomprehensible that death was such a daily happening there.
At the far end of the complex there are memorials to all religions. There is a Russian Orthodox Memorial chapel.  There is a Protestant Church Of Reconciliation. There is the Mortal Agony of Christ Chapel adjoining a Carmelite Convent. What takes my breath away though is the beautiful Jewish memorial which is partially underground and includes a seven tiered menorah which reaches to the sky from where you are standing and allows light in to the area.
I find it difficult to equate this significant reference to religion as it is my personal belief there was no God here, from 1933 until liberation by the U.S. soldiers in 1945. There are many I am sure, who used their beliefs to sustain them until freedom, one way or the other.
Once we have gone from the entrance to the back of the complex, we then walk up to the top again where is housed the most extraordinary museum I have ever encountered. It seems to go on for ages and ages, and tells the story of Hitler's rise and his mass hypnotism of a race of people, it tells the story of events that led up to the incarceration of so many people and his hatred of people of the Jewish faith. It tells the story of life in not only this Camp Dachau, but, also that of Buchenwald, Belsen-Belsen and of Auswichz. It talks about survivors' personal experiences whilst imprisoned, the underground reprisals and the people who risked their lives to tell the world what was happening in their own country. It explains how people were unaware of what was actually happening whilst they were trying to live their every day lives during war time. Most importantly though, this museum describes the events and the day to day lives in this concentration camp and how so many men dared to try and survive against so many odds. It talks about the world's gradual awareness of what was happening here and the shock and horror the liberating soldiers felt upon their entry into the camp.
We also watched a film clip at the completion of our day (which helped us to dry out and warm up a little as it had rained continually the whole time we were there) about the whole damned thing yet again. This once more made me weep to see families torn apart and lives lost so indiscriminately and again I am reminded that there was no religion here, just life and death after all.
Once we are done, once our hearts are heavy with sadness, we leave and return our audio sets. We then call into an adjoining cafe for a bite to eat and a drink, then go onto the bookstore where we both make a purchase.
Murray asked the lady (for she is a lady...gracious and polite AND speaks a little English) why there is no charge to enter this place.

She then tells us "We do not charge, for this is in memory of those who died here and we want all people to come here so no one forgets. If we charged, people would not come because it would cost too much for some. We want all to be able to come here and see what has happened and why it should never ever happen again".

As a postscript to this, I will say I am so very impressed with what has been done to commemorate this site. The people that have restored and maintained this place have done an incredible job. It would have been so easy to bulldoze the place and pretend it never existed whereas the guilt is acknowledged and accepted and reparation is made by the memories created here.
To those that have done this, I thank profusely. I am just a mere bystander who has had the time and fortune to visit this place.

My 'friend' from this morning who was so obviously inebriated, I only hope he is sleeping off the effects of his consumption. I can only imagine his sadness in his life, no longer living in his birthplace. At least he has the opportunity to live and be free from oppression if he should want.

Those 80 odd years ago were not so lucky.

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