After a few days of exploring Munich by foot and rail, and a rainy day in the Deutches Museum, we took the S-Bahn up to Dachau. Dachau is about 40 minutes outside of the city. Like the ride in from the airport you don’t see the sprawl and endless suburbs we’re accustomed to in the states. The city center and core gives way to mid rise apartments and small industrial parks, then houses with small yards visible from the tracks. Like other small towns Dachau’s train station is in the heart of the town– and opens up to a McDonalds right in the station.
Exiting the McStation you see a marker directing you to the Dachau Memorial Site, where the concentration camp was housed during World War II. In 2003 a full three mile walk from the town center to the gates of the site with markers and directions along the way. This walk mirrors the walk of the prisoners as they stepped off the train and made their way to the camp.
Being a comfortable mild May day we decided to walk the entire route, which allowed us to take in the entire city, and see many houses and styles of small town Germany. And we saw quite a few houses and yards after we lost the path two different times. The town of Dachau itself seemed utopian in it’s perfection. Kids on bikes waving to fellow neighbors, people working in their garden, and bustling in and out of stores and restaurants. It reminded me of the village from the Prisoner. “Be seeing You!” The walk took longer than we expected, but fortunately we found a Bratwurst stand for lunch. Another half mile of walking and we arrived at the gates.
The entire site is accessible and it’s encouraged to explore both inside and out of the gates. The perimeter is clearly delineated with multiple guard towers and the high fences still remain.
The main building houses the offices and over 14,000 documents, photos, and archives from the period of 1933 to 1945. Tours in English are given throughout the day. We listened in on part of a tour as the guide described the cruel and almost medieval methods of punishment and torture, including passive practices like the minimal food and water provided for the amount of labor expected, as well as the overcrowding conditions which contributed to diseases like typhoid. The photos in the main building highlight the deplorable conditions in which the prisons lived. The site was originally built and intended for only a fraction of the 200,000 people that passed through. Only two of the 32 barracks remain standing. The rest are noted by the endless cement foundations stretching to the far walls.
As I wandered the grounds alone I saw a nun sitting in various areas of the camp: on the cement foundations of the barracks, near the flower lined wall, and in the center of the main yard. I watched her as she seemed deep in thought and reflection. I wondered if her mind was engaged in prayer and memory for those lost, or the forgiveness of unforgivable actions. Or I wondered if like myself she was questioning the logic and reasonings of what drives humans to follow blindly follow their leaders, no matter how insane the task given.