Travel Destinations: Dachau-Nazi Concentration Camp In World War II

A travel-oriented look at one of the Nazi concentration camps from World War II : medical/experimental camp Dachau.

The door closes silently, with the barest whispering against the concrete. Inside, the building is as silent as a crypt. Only the occasional tap of a heeled foot touching could concrete or the shufflings of many people give life to the decades old museum. Once the control building of the concentration camp which was Dachau, it now hold only ghosts of its past. People come here in silent droves, to stand before each black and white photograph, convincing themselves that there was never anything glamorous about Nazi Germany. But only the long lists of prisoner names utter the extent of the tragedy that was created in this camp alone. More than forty million names appear on that list, but only half are Jews. Anyone who disagreed with Hitler, or didn't fit his standard, was taken to one of these concentration camps. Jew, Christian or Moslem; black, white, or Asian, it didn't matter. Of the whole complex called Dachau, all four city blocks of it, that one building is perhaps the most enlightening, though nowhere near the most emotionally charged.

The center of the huge gravel courtyard, surrounded on four sides by towering masses of concrete and barbed-wire, once held row after row of small, rectangular buildings meant to house the prisoners. Now, they are only stone filled foundations, but they lay like fallen soldiers, in four perfectly straight columns; the graves of Dachau's one hundred million victims.

There are three memorials at Dachau; Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish. The Protestant memorial is an underground chapel, containing a few wooden pews and an altar bearing a wreath of white lilies and four purple candles. The pews feel like ice, summoning up cold, frightening pictures of what life must have been like at Dachau. The lilies seem almost out of place to the visitor. A symbol of purity and holiness closed within the walls of one of history's most unholy places. Outside are two crosses, each a different view of suffering. One is half a cross, made of hard, cold iron and split down the center; the other, a gold-painted effigy of a body deprived of its arms, legs and head.

The Catholic memorial is a simple stone building with a large iron gate. Apropriate, as the camp itself was once as enclosed as this building. Inside, a small altar with a wreath of blood-red roses takes center-stage, with a crucifix above it and a row of prayer candles. Outside is a tall metal tower with a bell the size of the Liberty Bell hanging inside, and a large gold cross on top.

The Jewish memorial is perhaps the most compelling of all, speaking of the true spirit of suffering that prevailed within the walls of Dachau. It isn't really a building at all, but a stone bunker half-buried underground. Above the entrance to the bunker is a gold menorah and the ramp leading down to the memorial is walled, and covered with plaques of all sizes bearing the prayers and inscriptions of many Jews. This is the memorial which brings about a unique sense of loss and tragedy that separates it from the other two. The cold stone fills one with the isolation of a people, and an unnamable grief.

Few memories endure longer than those of suffering and grief, and the German people live with this reminder, carved into the marble memorial wall of Dachau: "Never Again." That is the promise against such horrors as were inflicted at Dachau, and that is the beginning of the road to healing and forgiveness.

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