The brochures in our hotel lobby promoted the Dachau tours (which felt a little too commercialized for me), but I really wanted to experience it to try to understand it better. We gave the kids the option to attend, and Maddy declined on proper sensitivity issues (she was crushed by Hiroshima) and Ben was tired of historical sites. But Izzy, our 12-year-old-going-on-18, went along as she seemed to have the maturity, curiosity and perspective. So off we went.
We learned that Dachau was not just one of the prisoner work-camp in the Nazi system, but the very first and one of the largest - and the model for the others to come. Dachau did have its share of Jewish prisoners and subsequent deaths, but it was not part of the "final solution" genocide campaign. It was a true "work camp" where prisoners were either mining raw materials outside the camp, or building munitions inside.
It was open from 1933 to 1945 when the prisoners were liberated by the Allied forces. Over 200,000 prisoners passed through the gates and over 32,000+ were officially recorded as having died there, but some estimate that number could be twice that much. Initially, most deaths were execution-style as "enemies of the people" were sent there to be "rehabilitated", but as those numbers literally dwindled, and the war went into two fronts for Germany, most deaths were caused by starvation, weather exposure and literally being worked to death; plus the typhus epidemics that swept through the camp several times. Towards the end of the war, the crematoriums ran out of coal and the bodies were buried in mass graves nearby. The last several thousand to die in 1945 were not even buried, and the first arriving Allied troops found piles of rotting corpses - which had to buried by local farmers.
There were gas chambers, but they were never used - and no one can explain why, but it was noted. "not out of kindness or sympathy"...
The prison cells and the two remaining barracks were the most moving, because honestly, after the life these prisoners had to endure before death, the ovens were just a logistics step - and the prisoners' miseries here on earth finally ended.
There is nothing I can say that can express the horrors of such atrocities, but to say that we all have to stay aware and vigilant to try to prevent and stop such events from reoccurring, and we must stay involved with situations like Syria and others. I hope we all always remain true to our global commitment of Never Again.
P.S. With all of the crazy "deniers" we have today (don't get me started), for people to say that the Holocaust never happened, when the camps still exist, and we have photographs and there are still living survivors...I just go get it.
I was surprised that it was Izzy that wanted to join us for the Dachau tour. Maddy has been reading about the Holocaust. She's finished 'The Diary of Anne Fran'k, 'The Book Thief' and 'The Boy in The Striped Pajamas.' We even saw The Book Thief together in Buenes Aires. Maddy declined the trip because I think she knew how hard it would be for her.
What I noticed when we were there was the number of field trip groups in attendance. The groups were not 4th & 5th graders like Maddy but high school kids. Much older than even Izzy. It became obvious, quickly, that the German school system does not touch on this subject at length until the students are in their middle-teenage years. While I could not understand exactly what was being emphasized by the teachers in these groups I made sure that Izzy had the opportunity to see what they were seeing. She blended in quite well but in reality she is still very young to comprehend what actually occurred at Dachau. Even I had a hard time comprehending what had occurred.
I'm more than proud that she volunteered to go with us. It has shown a side of her that we seldom see but we knew was there.