This is a day I’ll never forget and it will stay with me till the day I die. I felt like I had never felt before, my soul was ripped apart then put back together in a fashion that is unfavourable. My impression of history was finally given meaning, whilst a raw truth rocked me to the core. Before I continue on, I just want to say that this article may contain information they may disturb some readers (no graphical images), please read with care.
In my pre-trip plans for visiting Europe I had never intended on visiting the Dachau Memorial Camp however after talking to various people in Prague and Munich, as well as reading many books on WWII, I decided it was something I should experience for myself. Looking back at my studies in school, it was hard to imagine what was happening during World War II in Europe, even though I had grandparents who fought in the war. It was also hard to put feeling and emotion into history when Australia is so young and with history so distorted in the media today.
So when I found myself at the gates reading “Freedom Through Work” at one of the worse (and sadly to say not the worse) concentration camps in Europe’s history, I couldn’t help but feel the sorrow, disbelief and realisation of my history. The memorial camp had a sobering exhibition on the treatment and lives of the prisoners, explaining everything from their day-to-day routines to their living conditions. The museum also explained in graphic detail how the SS troops extracted information from many prisoners as well the processes of the various inhumane “experiments” that were conducted on them.
The Bunker located right of the main camp was one of the most depressing sections of the grounds, with many sobering stories and visual aids to help invoke the utter despair that prisoners faced within those walls. The Bunker was eerily surreal; perhaps as I was the only one in there, but also because it stretched for what seemed an eternity with many rooms leading off the main corridor. It wasn’t hard to imagine what had happened in these rooms during World War II, with telephone aids stuck to the walls providing the opportunity to listen to the many horrific personal stories relating to the atrocities of war.
The far end of the complex held the “shower blocks” and the various churches and shrines to the people and beliefs that were persecuted here. I don’t really feel comfortable about commenting on the “shower blocks”, except to say that I left the room with tears in my eyes and a deep feeling of pure sorrow. The churches and shrines offered a chance for people from all walks of life to grieve and provided a means for society to move forward and to learn from the past.
Dachau Memorial Camp can be found about 30 minutes from Munich, Germany and is easily accessible by the local train. It’s an emotionally draining experience that I wouldn’t do again, however I would recommend one visit if you have the chance. It’s hard to explain and recreate the atmosphere of this memorial camp and I really don’t want to try. Nevertheless I felt that to truly understand my family’s history and the history of Europe’s', a trip here is well worth it. As a tourism worker I was worried that this would be a tourist draw card or some gimmick, however I found this not to be the case and it truly reflected a memorial site with donations, rather than admission prices. The various small school groups walking the site made it feel more like a lesson in history than a day at a theme park.
The memorial is well worth the visit and as per signs, children under 12 should wait until they are older, as some images and descriptions are highly graphic. This was a day I would never forget and the pages of history would now have a whole new meaning for me. I would never again read history in the same way and I would never again think that history is history and war is just war. Lest we forget!