Since 2017, I have been writing and researching the evils thrust upon Europe and beyond by the NSDAP or in short Nazis, but I had never visited a concentration camp until last Sunday—4 June 2023.
I will not just write about Dachau but include the place I visited the day before—Das NS-Dokumentationszentrum München—the National Socialists Documentation Centre.
I selected the Dachau Concentration Camp to visit rather than Auschwitz Concentration Camp because, historically, Dachau was the first concentration camp built. It started here. Dachau was established on 22 March 1933, only a few weeks after Hitler and the Nazis had seized power.
I will not go into great lengths on the history of the place. I have written about it several times before. I will focus more about my observations, emotions and experiences of my visit.
We had an Irish tour guide. The tour started in Munich at the Marienplatz and from there on the train to Dachau town.
When we arrived, I could not help but notice how picturesque and pretty Dachau town was. Straight away, I saw a paradox of beauty and evil. When we arrived at the KZ-Gedenkstätte Dachau, the Dachau Memorial Centre, it was explained to us that we should not refer to it as a concentration camp but—as a former concentration camp. It is now also officially a cemetery, as estimated remains of 20,000 prisoners are buried and scattered over the site. One thing I found bizarre—but also something I could understand—was the location of the shop and cafe—they were at the complex’s entrance.
The gate at the entrance of the camp is a replica.
The gate in Dachau went missing in 2014. In 2016, it resurfaced in Bergen, Norway. There, it had been heavily exposed to the elements and could no longer function as a gate. In the meantime, a local blacksmith had made a replica, which is currently still in use.
What puzzled me about the story is that the original gate weighs about 100 kg, so it needed more than one man to steal it. Secondly, they had to climb over the outer gate of the Dachau complex and then move the stolen gate over the fence. Thirdly, the adjacent previous SS camp, which now is home to the Bavarian Riot Police, they didn’t hear or see anything, Call me cynical, but I doubt that very much.
The original gate is now on display in the former camp.
While walking around the premises, I did notice a few ladies wearing quite revealing clothes. Now I am the last man on the planet who would generally not have a problem with that, but there is a time and a place, and this was not the time nor the place.
I could have taken hundreds of photographs, but out of respect for the site, I took only a few shots where I knew I could tell a story.
As you enter the camp, one of the first things you would see [photo above] is the grassy verge and the watchtower. If prisoners stepped on the grass, the tower guards would fire upon them. Sometimes prisoners would deliberately step on it, knowing it was suicide. That was the level of desperation many in Dachau had.
Prisoners faced torture in many ways. One of the cruellest was when put on a bench face down and beaten with a club. They had to count every beat they received in German. A mistake led to the beating starting over. Eventually, the punishment was limited to 25 whacks, but the sadistic guards were such that they found a way around it. They would have more guards do the beatings— meaning it was 25 beatings per guard.
Although murder by gassing was sporadically at Dachau, it did happen. When I stood in the middle of the gas chamber, I did become overwhelmed. To me, it is still hard to fathom the evil of it. It could take up to 20 minutes before people would die. I could have taken pictures in the gas chambers but didn’t out of respect.
On 13 September 1944, there was an execution of four women at Dachau Concentration Camp. The four: Yolande Beekman, Elaine Plewman, Madeleine Damerment, and Noor-un-nisa Inayat Khan—were agents of the Special Operations Executive. A Dutch prisoner at the camp reported that Noor, in particular, had been singled out and beaten near death before being shot.
Before execution, the four women were tortured in the crematorium, facing the ovens where eventually their bodies would end up. I found one of the most disturbing aspects. Murdering is one thing, but why the mental and physical torture before that?
The tour lasted 3 hours. Over the next few weeks, I will write more about it, but as I said earlier, I also visited the Das NS-Dokumentationszentrum München’ the National Socialists Documentation Centre.
Das NS-Dokumentationszentrum München
Munich is associated with the rise of National Socialism like no other city and where the Das. NS-Dokumentationszentrum Münich [NSDAP] was founded. The tour of Munich and National Socialism was also about the documents of the city’s Nazi history.
I will not go into depth on all the details, but I want to touch on a few things. Firstly I was impressed with the museum. It gave me some food for thought, mainly that we have to relook at how we teach the Holocaust. Yes, Dachau was the first concentration camp built by the Nazis, but the Holocaust started with antisemitism, bigotry, racism, indifference and intolerance and all these ‘ingredients’ are plentiful again.
The museum exhibited a post-World War I and Weimar Era. Between 1924 and 1929, although a conservative city, Munich was an apolitically and socially diverse city. Life was good, albeit funded by loans given by Americans and British institutions. The differences between the majority conservative population and the more liberate-minded citizens—have never been addressed. However, there was an upswing of prosperity, and it seemed not to matter. When the financial crash happened in 1929, causing the Great Depression, ending the city’s economy. Münich became divided again. It wasn’t unique to just Munich but to other German cities.
It will have escaped no one that diversity and inclusivity are all the buzzwords today, and I don’t say this to be sarcastic. If we don’t address the differences between different groups of people and acknowledge the fears and concerns on all sides, diversity and inclusivity are just—buzzwords.
One group of victims of the Nazi regime were homosexual men. I noticed one photograph that I describe as ironic. It was what the Nazis saw as true Germanic art, unlike the degenerate art by mainly Jewish artists.
It was a photograph by Hitler’s photographer, Heinrich Hoffman, of statues of naked men [see above] and two men, in particular, holding hands, nude! I will leave it to you to interpret that one for yourselves. However, I think it’s obvious. There is a new upsurge of violence against the LBTQ community in several countries, and governments are introducing similar laws to those from 1930s Germany.
The above photograph is from 1938, and at first glance, it looks like an innocent, everyday picture of a young boy standing outside a hairdressing salon. His mother might work there, or perhaps he’s resting while she is getting her hair done. Look closer at the sign in the bottom left corner. It states, “Jews not welcome.”
I also visited the Jewish Museum in Münich. One thing that struck me was the persecution of Jews, in one way or another, since the 13th century. For us to ensure a Holocaust will never happen again, we need to find out what the root is for all that hate. As Primo Levi once said, “It happened, and thus it can happen again.”
I will do a follow-up in a few weeks because I have too much material to write on Dachau that I couldn’t possibly write up in just one post.
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