Sunday, November 16, 2008
"Work Shall Set You Free"
On our final day in Munich we took a few hours to see the infamous concentration camp in the nearby town of Dachau. The train ride was a quick one from the Munich Hauptbahnhof (main train station) and we sat in silence the whole way. It seemed eerie to be riding a comfortably modern train along the same tracks which bore so many people to their terrible fate.
As meteorological fate would have it the town was heavy with mist, all but obscuring the houses and roadways surrounding the "concentration camp memorial site".
I shivered as the modern world faded away and the camp came out of the fog like some sort of ominous Brigadoon.
The original guard house still stands along with the beautifully wrought front gate, bearing the proclamation "Arbeit Macht Frei" ("Work Shall Set You Free").
Dachau was the first concentration camp established inside Germany (1933) and the only one to be occupied for the entire reign of the Third Reich. It was used primarily as a work camp and though executions were carried out on a regular basis, mass exterminations did not occur here until near the end of the war. Aside from the guard house and barracks, not much remains of the original buildings, though a replica of one of the prisoners barracks was constructed in the 1960s.
The camp is mostly barren aside from the usual monuments and artist's tributes to the suffering of so many.
We had no desire to visit the crematorium and so, after viewing the museum exhibit inside the guard's barracks, we made our way back to the bus to return us to the train station. Along the way, I wondered how must it be for the modern townspeople of Dachau to go about their normal lives with such the solemn burden of history.