Saturday, July 13, 2013

Dachau KZ: Detention of "Undesirables"

We departed Berlin Tegel Airport at 7:00 am on Lufthansa flight LH 2057. Arrival in Munich was around 8:15 am. Since we had checked our bags through to Copenhagen, we were quick through the terminal and met our driver and tour guide ...

John Wetstone
A Bavarian German cliché ...
yet  disqualified because he is a
 transplanted American
... for our tour of Dachau Concentration Camp. John greeted us and led us to his van. The drive to Dachau was to the southwest and took 45-50 minutes; a bit longer than normal due to significant road construction. We tried to make use of the time to become acquainted with John and prepare ourselves for our visit to what has been called the "Nazi center for detention of 'undesirables.'" Well, we soon were acquainted with John while our questions about Germany's first concentration camp, or KZ went unanswered ... "it really is best to wait until we get to the Memorial." We parked in a neighborhood just off Alte-Römerstrasse and walked to the Memorial.

Dachau Train Tracks
Many visitors to the Memorial Site erroneously assume that the tracks
 near the entrance were used to bring trainloads of Jews right up to the
 entrance to the camp. The prisoners actually arrived at the train station
 in the town of Dachau and they had to walk almost 2 miles to the camp.
 The narrow gauge tracks and loading dock in the photo are remnants of a
 WWI gunpowder and munitions factory that preceded the location's 
conversion to the concentration camp.
(image courtesy furtherglory)

Two of seven guard towers surrounding the camp.
(The towers shown in this photo are reconstructions)

Passing the tracks and guard towers we next encountered the imposing steel gate marking the entrance to the camp ...

"Work Makes You Free"
 Rod iron gate, through which the prisoners entered the camp after
 their initial arrival, and later marched through each day with their
 labor units. 
All prisoners underwent the same fate when they entered the camp, they lost their legal status, their remaining possessions were confiscated, their hair was shaved off, and they were dressed in striped clothes. They were allocated a number as well as a colored triangle badge, indicating what type of category they belonged to.
  On the left, a plaque commemorating the liberation of the camp by American troops
 on 29 April 1945. On the right, a plaque marking the transformation of the former
 concentration camp into a memorial site.

The map shown above is not oriented toward the North. The top of the map is
 East and the bottom of the map is West. South is on the right and North is to
 the left on the map.

1. The Lagerstrasse (main camp road) runs through the center of the camp.

Lagerstrasse, bordered left and right poplar trees.
 At the end of the road rises the cylindrical form of
 the Catholic Chapel of the Mortal Agony of Christ
Late 1930s
A lone billboard stands to one side of main camp road, displaying
 an aerial view of the road teeming with prisoners.

 2. The Wohnbaracken (barracks) are represented by the 34 lines in the center of the map.

Reconstructed Barracks
The barrack on the right-hand side houses a small exhibition featuring how a typical residential barrack interior was arranged. The building on the left-hand side houses a canteen and a workshop.

The position of the former barracks is marked by the stone foundations laid out retrospectively, while the two barracks at the beginning of the camp road were reconstructed as part of the Memorial Site. Attentive visitors to the site might notice that only 30 of the 34 barrack outlines have numbers; nothing indicates that the remaining 4 housed the infirmary, canteen, workshop, and library.
Each building, or block as they were called, was divided into two sections. A separate door for each section opened from the outside into a tiny hallway. Straight ahead were two doors leading into separate rooms for the toilets and the wash basins. On each side of the entrance hallway were the living rooms with wooden lockers against the walls and tables for eating. Notice the abundance of windows. The floors were bare, unpolished wood. Each of the 30 residential barracks was designed to accommodate 180 prisoners with 90 prisoners in each section. There were two living rooms and two dormitory rooms in each section. These barracks were built to last for 10 years, by which time the Nazis anticipated that they would no longer need concentration camps for their political opponents.
Survivors in a crowded Dachau barracks after liberation, May 1945
Three-tier bunk beds where prisoners slept ... two prisoners per bed.

Living Room (from two sides)
Forty-five lockers lined the walls of the living-room, one for each prisoner. In front of the lockers
are tables for eating (stools not displayed).

Separate rooms for the toilets and the wash basins.

There were 17 barracks buildings on each side of the main camp road. Each barrack or block had a number from 1 through 30 with four barracks unnumbered.
  • Originally, there were two Rivierbaracken (infirmary barracks) on the farthest upper right side of the main camp road; an alarming increase in disease and epidemics necessitated the extension of the infirmary from two to thirteen barracks after 1939.
  • The experimental station of Dr. Sigmund Rascher was set up in barrack or Block 5 where high pressure and exposure experiments were practiced on defenseless prisoners, the alleged purpose was to examine the effect of a sudden loss of pressure or lack of oxygen, such as that experienced by army pilots who had to make parachutes jumps at great heightsDr. Claus Schilling, a  tropical medicine specialist had prisoners infected with malaria; he hoped to discover possible methods of immunization against malaria, and for this purpose had about 1,100 inmates infected with the disease. Bio-chemical experiments were also carried out in Dachau. Many of these medical experiments resulted in death.
  • A canteen and a workshop barrack was located on the farthest lower right side. According to Dachau survivor Nerin Gun, the prisoners were paid two marks per week in script which they could use to buy items from the canteen.
3. The Appellplatz (roll call square) where prisoners had to assemble each morning and evening is the open space on the right side of the map.

Every morning at roll call, the men of each barrack room paraded together as a platoon onto the Appellplatz. The men of each barrack block formed a company with a prisoner "sergeant" responsible for discipline. Prisoners who were common criminals were generally the ones who were put in charge. In the summer time, roll call was at 5:15 a.m. after the prisoners were awakened at 4 a.m. In the winter months, the prisoners were awakened at 5 a.m. Following roll call and breakfast, the prisoners would be marched off to begin their 12-hour workday in a camp workshop or in a factory outside the grounds.

4. The Jourhaus (gate house) was the only entrance into the camp when it was in operation.  It is located on the on lowest far right side of the map.

Looking through the historical entry gate
Gus behind "bars" in the lower left corner, the former service building
 west wing to the right, and the vast expanse of roll call square.
5. The Wirtschaftsgebaude (former service building that now contains a library, archive, museum, and discussion rooms) is the building with wings at each end. It is located on the south side of the camp, facing the Appellplatz. It contained the kitchen, laundry, storage rooms for prisoners' clothing and personal belongings, and the notorious shower baths where the SS would punish prisoners by flogging and hanging them at the stake. Located on the far right on this map.

6. The Desinfektionsbaracke (disinfection barrack). The disinfection hut, first used as a facility to kill lice in the camp clothing, had been converted into a restaurant during the time that the camp was the home of German refugees. Located in the top left-hand corner of the map.
7. The Lagergartnerei (camp market garden). Located on the far left side of the map.

8. The Graben (ditch), the Stacheldrahthindernis (electric fence) and the Lagermauer (wall surrounding the camp). Strip of grass in front of the ditch. The SS guards were authorized to shoot anyone who stepped on this grass.

A section of the perimeter fence had been preserved and partially
recreated in the northwest corner of the camp (lower left corner
of the map). Note the multi-layered approach - ditch, tanglefoot
 barbed wire, and an electrified fence.

9. Seven guard towers occupied the perimeter of the camp.

10. Behind the administration building was the Lagerarrest (camp prison). Flogging, punishment at the stake and executions were carried out in the yard of this building.      Located behind the Wirtschaftsgebaude, on the far right side of the map.

11. Krematorium (crematorium) which was called Barrack X. Located outside the rectangle in the far left-hand corner at the bottom of the map. Upon orders of the SS Economic Administration Main Office in Berlin, a gas chamber was installed in Barrack X. This gas chamber, disguised as a shower room, was officially never used. It is reported that the prisoners selected for "gassing" were transported from Dachau to the Hartheim Castle, near Linz, Austria or to other camps. In Hartheim alone, 3,166 prisoners were gassed between January 1942 and November 1944.

Exterior of the Crematorium or "Barrack X", with the external wall of the
Gas Chamber on the far left and outside of the picture.

Entrance to the Gas Chamber

Although there is a black sign with white letters near the
 ceiling which says "Fumigation cubicles" in five languages,
Top is German,
Then English
Middle is French,
Then Italian,
Last is Russian.

 many people still think these cubicles were used for homicidal gassing.

                           "Shower" sign over the door to the gas chamber       The gas chamber was disguised as a shower room
There was a gas chamber at Dachau, and it may have been tested on prisoners, but there was no large-scale murder of prisoners there, as Dachau was not a death camp; perhaps because by the time it was completed, deaths due to mistreatment, malnutrition, and disease already surpassed the capacity of the crematorium.

Death Chamber 1
This is one of three chambers where the dead were brought before
 they were cremated.

Crematorium in Barrack X
Four cremation ovens altogether. The metal stretchers sticking out
 of the ovens were used to load the bodies and put them inside. These
 ovens used coal for fuel. It is believed that the crematoria at Dachau,
 "working at full speed, could dispose of, at the most, 350 bodies a day.
 And there is irrefutable evidence that others were thrown alive
 and conscious into the ovens...."
Associated with the Dachau concentration camp today are more than a dozen memorial sculptures and buildings.
International Memorial by Nandor Glid on the former roll call grounds.
Officially dedicated in 1968, the monument was designed by the
 Yugoslavian artist and concentration camp survivor, Nandor Glid.
The emaciated, twisted limbs entwined like barbed wire symbolize
the suffering of the inmates.

Behind a short wall, that is part of the International Monument, are
words that say "Never Again" in five different languages.
Top is Hebrew,
Then French
Middle is English,
Then German,
Last is Russian.

In front of the wall is a box of ashes of the victims of the concentration
 camp, which was placed here on May 7, 1967. These were ashes that were
 found in red clay urns when Dachau was liberated.

 "May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933
 and 1945 because of their fight against National Socialism unite the
 living in their defense of peace and freedom and in reverence of
 human dignity."

Statue of an "unknown concentration camp
 inmate," by Fritz Koelle, dedicated September
 1950. The subject wears an overcoat, pants,
 and clogs, so that only his gaunt face betrays
 emaciation ... a detached, isolated, unimposing

 Catholic Chapel of the Mortal Agony of Christ
The church does not have the usual Christian cross on top, but instead is
 adorned with a Crown of Thorns, made of twisted iron bars. Dedicated
 in 1962, as the first religious monument at the site, at the instigation
 of former prisoners, including Bishop Johannes Neuhäusler. Little
 known, after 1940, all the Catholic priests, who had been imprisoned
 by the Nazis for resistance activities, were consolidated at the Dachau
 camp. A total of 2,579 Catholic clergymen were among the inmates at
 Dachau. Although the Catholic Church itself was not officially opposed to
 Hitler, himself a non-practicing Catholic, the majority of the prisoners who
died in the camp were Roman Catholic not Jews.

Jewish Memorial
by Hermann Guttmann, dedicated 1967
For Jews, Dachau was a dead place, and they did not want to erect
 a house of God there. After initially acquiescing to a simple Star of
David, it was decided that a non-liturgical memorial building would
be more suitable. The building is made out of basalt lava and the
 floor of the prayer room is six feet underground. The 18-foot tiled
 walkway leading down to the underground room is outlined by an
 iron fence which is reminiscent of the barbed wire fence around
 the concentration camp. A marble shaft protrudes through the roof
 where it is crowned by a Menorah.
Inside the Jewish Memorial
A vertical strip of light marble extends through
 a small round hole at the highest point in the roof.
 The column of light entering the hole symbolizes not
 only the chimney that was the sole exit for Jews who
 descended the ramps of the gas chambers, but also
 hope, salvation, and freedom.

The Protestant Church of Reconciliation (Versöhnungskirche)
by Helmut Strifler, dedicated April 1967
This Protestant church is by far the most complex religious memorial at the
 site. Its design sought to break the right angle symmetry of the camp with a
 curving outer wall of unfinished concrete, a low-lying, varying contour, "in
complete contrast to the pathetic flatness of the camp," as Strifler put it.
Trilingually inscribed stones ...

                               "Do Not Forget"                                                                        "Grave of Thousands Unknown"                                               

                         "Pistol Range for Execution"      "Grave of Many Thousands Unknown"                "Ashes Were Stored Here"

Park like area around the crematorium,
Certainly one is struck by the "human darkness" of Dachau yet for Gus its enormity is hidden in its shadows. The Memorial was reduced to the barest designators of the "Holocaust" ... an enclosed compound with an entry gate, guard towers, some barbed-wire fencing, 2 barracks, a gas chamber, a crematorium, a camp strewn with light-colored pebbles, and the locations of the other 32 barracks marked by low concrete curbs. The Memorial Site has reduced the historical significance of what happened here and presents an collective image, for the most part, of a "clean" camp.

Having toured the entire Memorial Site, with the exception of the Wirtschaftsgebaude, we entered a large visitor center which included a bookstore filled with books about the Holocaust and memorabilia. Here our guide, John, suggested that we buy the "official Dachau guide book" which included a DVD. We chose not to buy the ... we still waited for our "guide who guides" to share with us his vast knowledge of Dachau KZ.
From the bookstore we proceeded into a wonderfully curated museum. We wandered through the museum on our own and at our leisure. Upon completing our viewing of the exhibit we watched a 20 minute, heart-breaking documentary film taken from footage made by both the SS and liberating US troops. Exiting the theatre we were met by John and escorted back to his van. 
Lunch was next and Gus had requested that we have our meal at one of three Michelin Bib Gourmand  restaurants ...  Freisinger HofGutsgasthof Stangl, or Gasthaus Weißenbeck ... John countered, if not insisted, that we go to the BMW Welt in Munich. He dismissed each restaurant respectively as "not as nice as my restaurant," or "not very good in the middle of no-where!" or "also not very good in Dachau."  Driving to BMW Welt was worthwhile as we saw a fair amount of Munich, which on a previous trip to Munich we had not seen.  Parking ... John pulled into the lot and parked in a handicapped space, pulled out a placard, and displayed it on his dashboard ... we could not believe it! We ended up eating lunch at BAVARIE at the  BMW Welt.

BAVARIE Brasserie
(image courtesy of
Interior of BMW Welt
We sat outside on the terrace; Gus and Joan enjoyed a view of Olympiapark, site of Munich's 1972 Summer Olympics, while John flirted with the young, female restaurant staff. The food was mediocre, at best.

 BMW Museum
Finishing lunch and returning to the airport was an adventure to say the least. Remember,
road construction in and around Munich was causing heavier than normal traffic, John became enticed to find an alternative route. Using GPS (Garmin) John managed to get totally lost and discombobulated; he turned a 30 minute trip into a 90 minute trip ... fortunately we had allowed for  arrival two hours before our flight. We made our flight landing in Copenhagen at around 6:30 pm.

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