“Arbeit Macht Frei”
It’s been almost four years since I stepped foot inside the gates of Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp in Germany, and I can still remember it like it was yesterday. It’s one of those experiences that you’ll never forget- to be submersed in such a heinous yet important part of history. It’s an eerie feeling walking into a place that holds so much history, suffering, and sadness. It’s hard to put a visit to Dachau in words (but I’ll try), and hopefully my pictures will help convey the message (after all, a picture is worth a thousand words).
The entrance gate used by prisoners displays the phrase “Arbeit macht frei” which translates to “work shall set you free.” I stood there staring at the phrase, remembering the thousands of prisoners that walked through those gates and never walked back out.
After passing through the entrance gate, the buildings on the right hold a museum that visitors can walk through and learn more about Dachau and the history that’s bottled up inside the gates. I turned my attention to the left because I wanted to explore the grounds before heading into the museum. I found myself facing the prisoner barracks which were rebuilt as part of the memorial site since all the original barracks were torn down after the war.
Stepping inside the barracks gave me an idea of the ghastly living situation that was forced upon the prisoners. In the later years of the war, multiple prisoners were forced to sleep on the same bunk- the barracks were overcrowded due to a huge increase of incoming prisoners and no additional barracks ever being built.
It’s truly humbling to witness another person reflecting on the history and events that took place here. Even though all of the barracks were demolished after Dachau closed, the rows and rows of foundation that held those thirty barracks still remains. Most of my time in Dachau was spent walking in thoughtful silence, observing, and reflecting on the events that took place exactly where I stood some seventy to eighty years ago.
If you head down the path away from the museum you will come across the crematorium at the back of the grounds, outside the prison compound. The memorial stone shown above translates to “Crematorium – think about how we died here.” If you thought seeing the prisoner barracks was heart wrenching, walking through the crematorium and gas chambers is indescribable.
Visitors can enter the crematorium and see the ovens and gas chambers that were used to kill and dispose of the prisoners.
After walking through the crematorium, I headed back along what used to be rows of barracks toward the museum. Behind the museum (opposite the barracks), is where the bunker (camp prison) was located and was used to incarcerate high-level “enemies of the state.”
Visitors can’t go inside of the individual bunker cells but a few of them have open doors so you’re able to see inside.
Near the museum is a memorial to those who were imprisoned within Dachau. The message is displayed in different languages and reads “May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933 – 1945 because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defense of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow men.”
Exploring and learning more about Dachau and the events that took place here and throughout Germany was such a sobering and moving experience. It’s one thing to sit in History class studying the Holocaust and learning of the atrocities that have taken place throughout history, but to actually stand on the same ground in which these atrocities happened is humbling and unforgettable. Dachau is an emotional and genuine portrayal of the horrors that these prisoners faced- not only at Dachau, but at countless other concentration camps as well. If you get the chance to travel to Munich, you should definitely make the trip to Dachau to witness this significant part of history.
Have you ever been to a concentration camp? Would you ever go? I would love to hear what you think- leave your thoughts in the comments below. If you enjoyed this post, please share it!