Dachau concentration camp is located about 20 kilometers from the city of Munich. This area was a medieval town and up until 1933 was a quiet suburb of Bavaria. A prison site was set up and opened in 1933 for keeping German and Austrian criminals.
However, this site later grew to be one of the first Nazi concentration camps, only minutes away from Munich. Nazis used this site to hold political prisoners and Hitler’s opponents behind bars.
Getting to Dachau
- Located about 20-25 minutes from Munich city
- From Munich Central Station/Hauptbahnhof, take U 2 towards Erding
- Get down at the Dachau station
- Reach Dachau bus stop, take bus no 726 to the memorial site
- Entry to Dachau is completely free
- You can access audio-books from the information center
- The memorial site has Information center, museum and washrooms (free)
- Photography is allowed
We booked for a guided tour in advance. The tour cost us $35 CAD and lasted about 5-6 hours. Radius Tours guide, Sabri was very informative. Only licenced tour guides are allowed to show around Dachau.
We knew that this tour will be laden with historical facts, but we both love history and knowing that it will be an emotionally heavy day; we still went for it and booked the guided tour. And it was a different experience, very unique for sure
You will see this gate as soon as you pass the Information center and the area info map.
This gate at the Jourhaus building, is the entrance through which the prisoners would enter the camp site to register themselves. The gate contains the slogan, Arbeit macht frei, or ‘Work will make you free.’
The original gate was stolen in 2014, and later found in February of 2017. The image here is of the “re-make” gate.
As you enter the camp grounds, on your right you will notice the cells/barracks. There is a museum inside that highlights the process of roll-call for new entries in to the Dachau concentration camp and many other items like pictures of the in-mates.
On entering the campsite, the individual loses all identification, his past, present and the future assimilates to a mere number in the SS books.
Historians divide the life of the Dachau concentration camp into 3 phases –
- 1933-38 – Used as a normal prison by Heinrich Himmler. Meant for German political prisoners. Average death count was 11-54 deaths/year.
- 1938 – 42 – During the second world year, the condition of the inmates was terrible. More then 700 deaths were reported in a year. More prisoners were taken in and the concentration camp was filled with overcapacity.
- 1943-45 – Oppression during the last few years declined, possibly as Nazis were approaching defeat in the World War.
In one of the display rooms, you will see 3 different bed systems that vividly portrays the 3 phases of the concentration camp.
You can see a ladder in the bunker style bed- system. Each bed was assigned to 1 inmate. 2 blankets, clothes, books were provided to each. There is a over head shelf included as well
In the second phase, the beds were wider, but the ladder and the shelves were missing. Able and healthy prisoners were given the top bunk. Around this time, as the capacity of the camp exceeded the norm, diseases were rampant. By assigning the top bunk to a healthy prisoner, the SS guards were trying to curtail the spreading of diseases
In the third phase, inmates were brought in huge numbers and 1 bed was shared with 3 other prisoners. Around this time, Dachau managed the disposal of the bodies in their private cell-crematorium.
Not only political criminals, but in later years, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, emigrants, disabled children, etc were also kept captive in Dachau
SS guards were also kept captive in Dachau. A separate area was allotted for them
Just before you reach the camp site via bus, you will notice a block of red buildings. Those were the offices of the SS guards. Currently, there are used as administration office for Bavarian police department. I found this very ironic for what these buildings symbolizes.
More images of the camp site:
You can see how close the residential buildings are to the concentration camp. Its unclear if the residents of Dachau knew about the existence of this place and the atrocities it was committing on the inmates.
In 1945, when the US army liberated this place, they found 3000 bodies of Dachau prisoners. The US army called on the residents of Dachau to see for themselves, the atrocities Nazis have caused.
In this concentration camp site, you can see the gas chambers.
Its something we have read about in history books, but to see that in person was terrifying. It was like a death factory, so organized and camouflaged. Cell inmates used to take care of the entire process of cleaning the prisoners, injecting the room with chemicals and finally the disposal of the bodies.
The cell-inmates who were entrusted with this task were killed in 2-3 months time to maintain the secrecy of the entire process.
Deceptive “Shower room” (the term brausebad” is no longer used in German households. Brausebad means shower.)
Gas was infused into the Brausebad room from outside, through the square outlets
Here are the infamous death chambers
The concentration camp had a crematorium, of a smaller size before. Picture below.
But with frequent deaths and tortures, the death toll kept increasing year after year. And the city crematorium began alarmed at the situation. To ward off any speculations about what was happening at Dachau – a private crematorium was set within the camp limits.
Red Cross Society visited the camp 3 times during the 2nd and 3rd phase of the Dachau concentration site. On all occasions, Nazis fooled the Red Cross representatives into thinking that the prisoners were being treated well. On one occasion, the representative believed that the condition of the in-mates were much better then the average (free) Germans.
When you walk away from the crematorium, you will witness vast empty areas that used to be barracks.
Further down, towards the end of the campsite, are different memorials set by – Russians, Christian Catholics/Protestants, Jehovahs witnesses, etc
After the camp was liberated in 1945 by the US army, many of the barracks were used to shelter the displaced population. This went on until the 1960’s, when finally many survivors felt that it was inappropriate to be living in such a place and thereafter many of the rooms/cells were taken down, so that never again will anybody have to live in such a situation.
This post actually took me the longest to write. I have read history and understood many chapters both glorious ones and horrid ones. But on most occasions in a museum or when exploring a structure, its the intellectual curiosity that gets me. You want to know more and more about the past, unknown-facts and the like.
But when you enter a place like this…..where many have lost their lives, in torturous ways that humanity has ever known, it kills a part of you, knowing that it exists.
All the rooms are empty now, but it still speaks volume of untold stories of inmates who we will never meet or never know. And unfortunately this is history that we have inherited.