For our “Gentlemen’s Tour Abroad,” Justin and I decided to spend two of our five days on day trips outside of Munich. As this trip was important to both of us, we decided it was only fair that each of us got to choose where we really dreamed of going for the day trips. So, as per Justin’s request, our first trip was to Dachau to see the concentration camp. Though I initially had qualms, when I look back I am actually glad I went, as it was an opportunity to really learn about the terrible things that occurred in these camps. I realize now that the education on certain things, especially the great tragedies of human history, that we receive in school is actually very censored, as many of the things I learned from the Dachau memorial were not covered in school. Perhaps this is another example of why travel, especially for young people, is so important: if you force yourself out of your comfort zone and see such places of tragedy with your own eyes, you can get a better sense of the history than if you were to simply read your (heavily edited) history text book. Furthermore, many of these places have carefully curated museums, constructed by experts and witnesses alike, to truly ignite the flame of knowledge in its visitors.
The main maintenance building of the camp has now been converted into a thirteen exhibit museum, complete with educational movie theater, for the public to tour. What I found particularly interesting were the hundreds of accounts by Dachau survivors quoted on all the exhibits, some excerpts taken from journals written as the events were unfolding. Seeing the faces of survivors and victims on the exhibits was really quite sobering, and really helped to solidify my historical understanding of what occurred.
While two of the bunkers, where prisoners were kept, remain standing to give the public an idea of what occurred at Dachau in terms of living conditions, most of the camp itself is now a grand memorial. Religious memorials for Russian Orthodoxy, the Protestantism (the Church of Reconciliation), Catholicism (Mortal Agony of Christ Chapel and the Carmelite Convent), and Judaism surround the camp. Other memorials, such as the International Monument outside the maintenance building and the “Unknown Prisoner” by the crematorium add to the air of remembrance and respect for those who endured life at the camp.
Perhaps what I found most interesting, albeit unsettling, about Dachau was that the surrounding area was actually quite beautiful. The paths of remembrance by the crematorium, where several monuments to the victims stand, were tranquil and lushly forested. I found it rather disturbing that such horrible things occurred among the beautiful trees and flowers. Perhaps this is a lesson that despite a beautiful exterior, rotten things may be unfolding at the core.
The Dachau Concentration Camp memorial was an incredibly moving and educational experience. While at first I was hesitant, I am thankful I had the opportunity to visit such an important historical memorial in the modern world.
Originally written 7 July 2014