Mostly sunny – high temp 64ºF
We decided that since we had the car, it would make sense to visit Dachau before going to our apartment in Munich about 25 minutes away. I had some very mixed feeling about visiting Dachau prior to our trip… I willfully isolate myself from things int his world that detract from my feeling of happiness. On the other hand going all that way and NOT visiting? Well that seemed like something I would wish I had made a different choice about at some point. On top of that (the words get a little wonky here cause it is hard to find the right words), I felt that I would be doing all the victims a disservice by avoiding Dachau. In the end there wasn’t much to deliberate, we didn’t even really decide… it just became part of the plan.
Realizing that the boys are at a different age, we planned our visit without a plan. Basically we decided to go and see what made sense and leave when it made sense.
At this point I need to rewind a bit. I had taken 5 shirts on this trip, no more, no less, and they were on a rotation… this particular day the shirt of the day was Captain America. When I put it on in the morning, I thought about the visit and considered whether that shirt may be inappropriate. I decided that a that moment I felt ok, and that I would have my luggage with me to change if I felt I needed to.
Again when we arrived at Dachau I considered my shirt and felt that I should change it, however for whatever reason at that moment it seemed like a pain in the ass, so I didn’t. When we arrived at the visitor center at the entrance a list of rules were listed. One rule was that flags were prohibited. Although Captain America’s shield is not a flag, I think it is pretty clearly a strong representation of the American flag, and I was certainly not going to put my foot down about technicalities… this place deserved so much respect that I didn’t even want to tiptoe near what may be considered a gray area. I decided that I would just zip up my sweatshirt, however as we started walking I quickly realized it was too warm to zip up my sweatshirt, so I told the family to wait while I trotted back to the bathroom to put my shirt inside out. Dylan was really perplexed by this, “Why are you putting your shirt inside out?” he asked. I explained to him about the rule, and that even though the shirt wasn’t a flag, it may be perceived by others that I was making a statement about the U.S. or the U.S. liberation of this camp… I didn’t want to do anything that could cause a distraction to anyone. He didn’t have any further questions about my shirt. I don’t know what his take away from that was, but I hope it was positive.
As we approached the gates at the entrance to the camp… the same way all prisoners entered, we took a moment to explain to the boys that this place was to be treated like a cemetery… respectful, etc. They had been ornery with each other and us since we parked, and although there was still some fight in them, they nodded their understanding. When we entered the grounds, it was like a switch was flipped in them. The pissy emotions they had been exhibiting just disappeared, and they conducted themselves with so much respect and poise… I was so proud of them; I’m even more proud of them now.
I walked on to the grounds into the roll call area and saw pictures of thousands of prisoners standing at attention and read stories of what this daily routine was like. As I stood there, a bell at the far end of the compound began to sound. It was solemn and a little eerie.
It was about this time, after taking a few pictures, that I realized that I wanted to be different here than I was at the other places we had visited… I stopped taking pictures so that I could be a little more in my head. If I wanted to see a picture there are thousands of them on the internet.
I had expected to feel very emotional and sad at Dachau, but was surprised that I really just felt devoid of emotion, inside I was a void. I kept trying to check-in with myself, and every time the response I got was “nope, nothing.” Even when the boys and I ventured to the wall to see everything that was in place to avoid escape, there was a sign with a picture of a woman laying on the ground, partially hanging in barbed wire, dead. Shot by the guards for either trying to escape, or just getting to close to the barriers. The boys saw that too. I would not have chosen for them to see it, and as we talked about seeing it I know it had made some impact, but I reminded myself of the horrific images and videos I saw of this atrocity when I was their age… hundreds upon hundreds of naked emaciated bodies in huge piles… that did not disturb me as a kid. I had a morbid curiosity. I reminded myself of that and even though the boys had read the sign explaining the picture, I told them to let me or mommy know if they had any thoughts or questions about what they saw.
While the boys and I were walking around, Karen was inside of the former Administration Building which was now full of exhibits and placards. Since we weren’t sure what that would show, Karen had gone in alone. The boys and I ventured to the bunkhouse next and saw the conditions that the prisoners lived in. The bathrooms and locker rooms were simple and unassuming. The bunks were tiny and near the end of the war the overcrowding was so severe that two or more people ended up sharing a bunk. After leaving the bunkhouse we met up with Karen and she then visited the bunkhouse.
We then ventured to the rear of the compound where a number of memorials exist, each from/for a separate religion. After visiting these the boys were ready to leave, but I was not. I don’t know why, but the one thing I felt I had to see was the crematorium. That was short distance away, so we carried the boy (piggy-back) to that area. Aidan wanted to be carried because he was wearing an ill fitting pair of pants and they were chaffing… Dylan wanted to be carried cause Aidan was being carried ?.
At the crematorium, I was struck by the assembly-line nature of the design. The ovens were in the middle space of the building, slightly off center to the right if looking at the building from the front. To the right of the ovens was a room where bodies to be cremated were placed. Now this is where the “wow” hit me. On the far left of the building was a disrobing room where people would remove their clothes. From there was a doorway into a room with one doorway on the opposite wall. This room had no windows, the ceiling was very low, and it had various nozzles protruding from it. Through the doorway on the opposite wall was another room where bodies were placed while they awaited cremation, and through a door on the opposite side of that room were the ovens. So in “production” mode, people would enter the disrobing room and leave their clothes, enter the shower, have their body moved to a storage room while awaiting cremation, and then be cremated.
FUCK! As I reflect on this, it is a much more emotional response for me. Holy shit! I am at a loss for words… there is so much wrong with what I described.
At Dachau they say that the showers were never used except or and occasional execution of individuals… I haven’t researched it and I don’t intend to. People with much more more knowledge of this atrocity created the displays that share that info. I will say that it strikes me as odd to have created a facility of that design and never use it in that manner. That is all I’m gonna say about that.
After walking out of the crematorium, I found a nearby bench to sit down on by myself. I took a moment to process what I had just seen (still feeling very emotionless). I was very confused by my lack of emotion. I am a pretty sensitive person and this type of thing should have had a pretty big impact on me. In hindsight, perhaps my brain just put up a wall at the time… I’m not sure, but as I sat on the bench, I forced myself to emote. I didn’t think I should have to, but I felt that I needed to. This place was where tens of thousands of souls left their earthly body, and I had just taken a very abbreviated, and comfortable, version of their body’s journey from walking through the gates, to the ovens.
The emotions that came were real, but subdued. I feel much stronger emotions now as I reflect back and type this. I acknowledged them for what they were, accepted that I was confused by their lack of intensity, and moved on the last thing I wished to see. Near the crematorium there is a short path through the woods. The path and the woods are really quite lovely, but tainted by the fact that there was a shooting range, which was a small meadow, a pistol range, which was a small berm, a firing line with a blood trench, and the location of a mass grave where victims ashes were buried. I got the impression that people were always the targets at the pistol and firing range. First off all of these areas were incredibly small and al most right on top of each other, and aside from the meadow, the other areas backed right up to the camp perimeter wall which was no more than 15 feet from the path where the gun wielders would stand. At that range it seemed there was little to practice shooting at as anyone could hit a target at that range.
After leaving the path, I rejoined my family where we walked/were carried back to the gate where our visit of Dachau concluded.