Sometime in 2014, I got a trip to Munich. I'd never been to MUC, much less Germany, so I had no idea what I was going to do for my 24 hour layover. While I was waiting in the lounge for my briefing to start, I typed "things to do in Munich" into Google. One of the top hits was about Dachau. I didn't know that it was so close to Munich. And I'd always wanted to visit a concentration camp. So, I quickly figured out how to get to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site from my layover hotel and planned out the day. During the flight, I told my fellow crewmembers about my plans to visit Dachau and a few of them seemed interested in going with me. However, when we got there, it was raining. Rain + Sunday layover = slam-clickers. I waited in the hotel lobby for 15 minutes before heading out on my own. Thanks to my limited knowledge of German and the ease/efficiency of German public transport, my train & bus trip were seamless. I purchased a Munich XXL ticket, which covered the roundtrip train and bus ride that day. The Dachau Concentration Camp website was very helpful in planning my way to and from the memorial.
I hadn't adequately prepared for how heavy, emotional, and draining this experience would be. To be honest, I don't think one could really prepare for something like this. It's an experience I've always wanted to have, but wasn't fully sure about what to expect once I got there.
The memorial site was fairly empty because it was a rainy Sunday. And I'm thankful for that. I'm also glad that I went by myself, so that I could take as much time as I wanted to take in the experience without worrying about another person.
The camp itself is deceivingly massive. The entrance to the camp isn't ominous in and of itself. But once you walk through the gate which the infamous phrase "Arbeit macht frei", you see just how expansive the camp is for such a small town.
The roll call square (Appelplatz) is one of the first areas that you come into after entering the camp. It is a giant area where prisoners were lined up for roll call twice a day and sometimes forced to stand in formation for hours. This area is in front of the former maintenance building, which now houses various exhibits on the history of the camp, life at the camp, and the arrival of new prisoners.
In the former maintenance building, you can see where new prisoners were processed, including areas where they were bathed, had their personal belongings taken from them, and were punished by flogging. The "Rauchen verboten" sign was one that showed up after layers of paint had faded and peeled off.
The exhibits give very detailed information into the life of those running the camp and imprisoned there. There are plenty of artifacts and preserved areas from the camp's operating days.
Just past the Appelplatz are two reconstructed barracks. These barracks were reconstructed to show how life was for the Dachau prisoners. One of the barracks is an exhibit on the prisoners' lives, showing their various sleeping accommodations throughout the life of the camp, bathhouses, and personal storage. All of the original barracks had deteriorated by the time the memorial was established. They have since been replaced with concrete foundations to mark where all 34 barracks were.
The barracks are separated by Camp Road - the central road leading from the Appelplatz to the religious memorials and crematoria at the back of the camp. Camp Road is lined with huge trees. And I took my time walking down this road. Thinking about everything I'd learned so far. And thinking about the thousands of people that had taken the same steps that I was taking, though under much different circumstances. In the middle of my walk, a bell started tolling. To be honest, it scared the mess out of me at first because it was rather loud. But I found it comforting as I continued my walk to the religious memorials. There are four religious memorials to commemorate the beliefs of those imprisoned at the camp - Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, and Russian Orthodox. There is also a Carmelite convent in the back of the camp that allows visitors.
After visiting each of the religious memorials, I made my way to the crematoria. There are two buildings - the old crematorium and Barrack X, the "new" crematorium. Up until this point in my visit, it'd been raining steadily. However, it started raining harder once I reached the crematoria. As the rain came down harder, other visitors started to run into Barrack X for shelter. I stood outside with my flimsy umbrella, undoubtedly soaking wet, and watched this happened. I almost ran in myself. Until I realized what was going on. People were running into a building that was once used to kill and destroy prisoners. The irony was not lost on me.
I'd joined a tour group and listened to the tour guide give some background on the old crematorium. It had two ovens. It wasn't big enough to keep up with the number of bodies in the camp. So Barrack X was built. Barrack X had a gas chamber, which was never used, and two "death chambers," where bodies were piled up before being sent to the ovens. Prisoners were the ones who operated the crematoria. I couldn't even imagine having such a grisly and dehumanizing job.
I spent half the day at the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. Once I'd seen everything at the memorial, I made my way back to the hotel. I got to my room and I sat in bed. And that's about all that I did that day. I sat in my bed and started processing everything that I'd experienced. It was so emotionally, mentally, and spiritually heavy. I started weeping. I didn't turn on the TV or listen to music. I ordered room service because I didn't want to leave. I wrote in my journal because I wanted to capture how I was processing everything in the moment.
I'm thankful for the somber, respectful atmosphere at the memorial. It was very quiet throughout the entire camp. I'm glad that I went alone. I experienced it in my time and manner. This trip to Dachau will always stay with me. It sparked an interest in me to learn more about Hitler's rise to power, the Nazi regime, and the Holocaust. I get very emotional whenever I tell people about this trip. It's usually my answer to the question, "What's the best trip you've ever done?"