A touching visit to Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, Germany

In En-Route, Europe, Germany, Our Journeys, Trip-Types, World Travel by JanisLeave a Comment

This can never be forgotten

What I find incredible to comprehend at times is that Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933. We so often associate him with World War II and forget that he had been brainwashing his country with propaganda for years.  

The Jourhaus, or main entrance, of the Dachau Concentration Camp, Dachau, Bavaria, Germany

The Jourhaus, or main entrance, of the Dachau Concentration Camp

Dachau Concentration Camp is a clear indication that his authoritarian ways started way before then. 

Just around seven weeks into his reign of becoming Reich Chancellor on 30th January 1933, Dachau camp was set up on 22nd March 1933.

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For a few days leading up to our visit to Dachau, we were fortunate to have been enjoying blue skies and sunshine. On this June morning, it had changed, a greyness and slight chill in the air sombrely fitted the surroundings of Dachau concentration camp.

A look along a path between the bases of the former huts at the camp.  The backdrop is a watchtower at the end between a barbed wired fence in front of the forest.

Site of prisoner’s barracks, Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site

What lay beyond

We strolled along the path towards the Jourhaus, which was the main entrance building into the Dachau camp. It was here that every prisoner would have had to enter through and see the words on the wrought iron gates of ‘Arbeit macht frei’, or 'Work Sets You Free.'

The motto 'Arbeit macht frei’ which translates to 'Work Sets You Free’ set in wrought iron in the gate to the entrance to the camp.

Arbeit macht frei - 'Work Sets You Free’

What tormenting thoughts must have been chasing around their minds, Gary and I could not even begin to comprehend.

Prior to wandering through the main gates, we head opposite to where the old railway tracks can scarcely be seen.  Alongside is a small section of the crumbling deserted station platform, that would have greeted thousands to their final destination in life.

The railroad tracks in front of a crumbling platform that was once the disembarkation point of prisoners to the camp.

Dachau crumbling station platform

What now remains of the cold grey iron tracks, just lead off into the distance to nowhere.

It was quite moving here, and as you stood back away from the entrance. You could envisage the incredibly touching site of row upon row of prisoners shuffling towards the gates.

Roll-call in Dachau

We entered through the infamous gates of the Jourhaus and immediately you are faced with the vast roll-call square. I was lost for words and can’t even begin to imagine what these poor men must have thought as they wandered into this hell-hole.

The roll-call square at the camp.

Roll-call square

The daily roll-call for these prisoners was held in a bleak, grey expanse of misery. This routine in Dachau and other concentration camps was enforced on all men. Even the recently dead would need to be carried or dragged out by their friends or comrades. They could barely support the weight of their own bodies, let alone the indignity that had befallen their friend. 

The roll-call square and buildings that made up the administrative quarters of the camp.

Roll-call square & Administrative buildings

This awful act was carried out morning and evening, and prisoners were counted, to ensure that no one had escaped that day. Who would blame them for trying to escape when the alternative was life under these savages?

So close to Munich

Dachau is only around 19 miles (30km) from Munich, so, you could easily make it into a day trip.

The roll-call square in Dachau could hold forty to fifty thousand people.

The story unfolds

A large amount of the maintenance buildings and storage rooms still remain and are now home to a compelling museum. As you wander through the exhibition, there is so much information to take on board; however, it is extremely interesting and unbelievably touching.

Inside a corner of a museum where drapes display information of the horrors of the camps with supporting images.

Exhibits in the museum

The presentation focuses on the path and the awful fate of the prisoners. It explains in detail why these innocent people were targeted, humiliated, tortured and murdered by the SS. 

There were also moving first-hand stories of those liberated to their freedom.

Prisoners waiting in Dachau, Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, Visiting Bavaria, Visit Germany

Prisoners waiting in Dachau

A blown-up black & white image of an officer wearing a swastika armband addressing a group camp guards.

Taking instructions

No escape

Dotted around the rusty barbed wire perimeter fence, are still some of the restored watchtowers. These give such a spine-tingling reminder of many prison camps around the world. And a tiny inkling into the big brother world that was the prisoner’s day to day lives. 

Looking along a barbed-wire fence towards a watchtower at the edge of the camp.

Watchtower & Fence

A close-up of the electric fence that surrounded the camp focusing on a ceramic cable isolator.

Security around the perimeter

International Memorial

On one side of Roll-Call square and opposite the Jourhaus is the International Memorial. It is dedicated to all the political opponents of Hitler’s Nazi Party. There were so many people from different walks of life that were being persecuted. 

The memorial path in front of the former camp headquarters.

International Memorial

Initially, Dachau camp was populated by mainly Germans but, as the months and years ticked by, and they entered into the very early years of the Second World War this changed. 

More and more people from other European countries were being sent to Dachau. The largest nationality within Dachau soon became to be the Polish.

A square memorial containing recovered ashes of victims of the camp in front of a wall with 'Never Again' inscribed in Hebrew, French, English, German & Russian.

Never Again

The monument was designed by the Yugoslavian artist and concentration camp survivor, Nandor Glid. 

Good to know!

Allow at least a few hours to appreciate Dachau fully; it is worthy of every minute you can give it.

The Barracks

As we wandered down the middle of the tree-lined former Camp Road, it really felt quite strange and almost oppressive.

A view of the bases of the former dormitories that made up half the camp leading down to the parade ground in the distance.

Former Barracks

Even though all of the barracks that the innocent people were confined to, were destroyed in the 1960s. You are still able to see the layout of the dorms and where 34 of them once stood. 

Looking across where the dormitories once stood, just the bases outlines remain now, but the tree line central boulevard still exists.

Looking across where the dormitories once stood

The concentration camp was initially built to hold 6,000 prisoners. Unbelievably when Dachau was liberated on 29th April 1945 by American troops, there were over 30,000 people suffering in the horrendous conditions. 

Reconstructed triple-deck cramped bunk beds in the wooden dormitories that housed the prisoners.

Living quarters

A look along the tree-lined central boulevard of the camp.

Former Camp Road

A couple of the barracks have since been reconstructed, to provide a tiny insight into how the living quarters of the camp would have been.

Crematorium, Barrack “X”

The most horrific and poignant part of the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site is the crematorium. You are literally lost for words. 

How one human being could inflict these atrocities on another is unfathomable. 

A small wooden timber & plaster hut that housed the original 'old' crematorium at the camp.

The old crematorium

As you climb up the steps to where the de-robing room, the gas chamber and the incinerators are, part of you is saying don’t go in. Yet another part of you is saying, you must. Gary and I wanted to try and comprehend the extent of what went on behind these walls.

An iron door that led to the gas chamber the camp.  Above the door is a sign for Brausebad - Shower/Bath.

“Brausebad” – The showers, or what the prisoners believed

A statue entitled to "The unknown prisoner" by Fritz Koelle in the crematorium area of the site.

Memorial to "The unknown prisoner" by Fritz Koelle

It was horrific, and personally, I don’t think words are enough, these people were barbarians. 

In the Memorial Site archive, 32,000 deaths are registered; many thousands more were not. A memorial to these unknown prisoners stands by the crematorium as a reminder of this.

Religious Monuments 

During the years that Dachau operated as a concentration camp, people from many different religious faiths and backgrounds passed through the gates.

A circular stone chapel  at the end of the camp with a large cross in the centre.

The Mortal Agony of Christ Chapel

The entrance to the Carmelite Convent through the access gate at the based of one of the lookout towers of the camp.

The Carmelite Convent

Within the campgrounds today, various religious memorials have been dedicated to these faiths. Some of the survivors from the atrocities have since returned to pay their respect to the inexcusable loss of lives.

A small wooded, onion-domed, Russian-Orthodox Chapel.

Russian-Orthodox Chapel

The Jewish monument at the camp, sunk into the ground that houses the eternal light flame.

Jewish Monument

Amongst the different monuments are The Mortal Agony of Christ Chapel, which is seen the length of Camp Road. The Carmelite Convent, the Protestant Church of Reconciliation, the Jewish Memorial and the Russian-Orthodox Chapel.

Shocking reality

Horrifically Dachau camp served as a model for all later concentration camps. In the twelve years that Dachau Concentration Camp was in operation (1933 to 1945), over 200.000 people from all over Europe were imprisoned there, and within its 140 subcamps. It is believed that one in five persecuted prisoners, perished in Dachau. Around 41,500 people were murdered until American troops liberated them on 29th April 1945.

Useful Info

  • The official Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, website has a fantastic amount of useful information
  • It is not recommended that children under 12 visit the camp.
  • Admission is free of charge.
  • Opening hours at 9am to 5pm (Closed 24th December).
  • Guided Tours for individual visitors are €3.50 for 2 ½ hours.
  • Audio guides €4.
  • You can also download for free, the Dachau Memorial Guide app, by the Bavarian Memorial Foundation – this provides all useful current visitor information.
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About the Author

Janis

Janis, the co-founder of Our World for You, was born in London and raised in Kent and the Isle of Wight. Along with Gary her partner, they have been travelling part time since 1995. In 2016, they decided that enough was enough with the 9 to 5, so armed with the knowledge and experience that they had gained on their adventures, that they wanted to inspire others to travel the world near and far.

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