Located about 30 minutes outside of Munich, Dachau Concentration Camp memorial is an historic and culturally significant place to visit when in Bavaria, Germany. It was the first concentration camp in the country, opened in 1933 with the original intention of holding political prisoners, growing in size throughout the war to accommodate the increasing amounts of Jewish and political prisoners. After the war the site was turned into a place to house displaced persons waiting for resettlement for a time before it was finally closed in 1960.
Today, it remains as a memorial to commemorate the many lives that were affected and persons held as prisoners in the camp.
The memorial site is free to enter and easy to access. We took a train from Munich Central to Dachau and then took the local bus out to the memorial site. There are also advertised walking tours available if you require a better understanding of the history of the site. It is quite easy to do a self tour as there is a lot of signage and easy to use maps. Overall, it took us about 4 hours to cover the site.
I found that it was a very emotionally draining place and there are recommendations at the information centre that suggest some content may not be appropriate for children under the age of 13.
Most of the original buildings are still standing and have been well preserved in an effort to remember what happened at the site. There is a certain atmosphere that is hard to describe and it remained very quiet throughout the tour, no matter how many people were around.
Throughout our tour we came across a series of buildings and memorials, including the Jourhaus, International Memorial, and the prisoner barracks. There is a barrack set up in a time series to show how the barracks were furnished across the 12 years. There are also markers for the barracks that have been since knocked down.
Other components of the camp that are still there include the watch towers and barbed wire walls. We also went on the memorial walk that has religious shrines dedicated to those who died at the camp. The walk has a somewhat haunting beauty to it as though it was winter when we were there, this was the one area were the trees were still green.
The last part of the outdoor site self-tour we took was through the crematorium. It was the most confronting element of the memorial camp as there were at least 32,000 deaths at Dachau, not including those that were unregistered.
The last place we went was through the museum of artefacts. There were a series of large rooms with information and anecdotes about the war, capturing the many perspectives and experiences felt by people in the camp as well as across Europe. It was also here where the original gate to the camp is displayed. The gate reads ‘Work sets you free’, a motto that was placed on the gate entrance to many other concentration camps.
The Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial was an insightful experience that allowed us to better understand the history and atrocities that were committed before and during the Second World War. Though it can be confronting to walk through, I found the day trip was a great opportunity to understand what happened during the war to a far greater extent than merely through history books and photographs.