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Dachau

On Saturday I visited Dachau. Since before I came to Munich I had planned on going at some point, not because I thought it would be fun, but because I knew it was important, on several levels, for me to go. Luckily, I had met Ally the weekend before and she too was interested in visiting. Going to museums or monuments, especially such serious, sad ones, is always better with people, so early Saturday, I rode the train to Marienplatz to meet her. We bought the ticket that would get us there and took the 20 minute train ride out to the town of Dachau, discussing books and other light matters. On arrival in the town, I was struck by how the town seemed so normal, with shops, houses, even a McDonald’s. I couldn’t imagine people asking where I was from and replying Dachau. From the station we took a short bus ride out to the actual camp where, despite the cold and snow, there were dozens of people moving in and around the site (I learned that Dachau gets over a million visitors every year). Walking through iron gate inscribed with “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Makes You Free) was distinctly uncomfortable for me. Ally and I looked at the parade grounds, reading the posted descriptions of what prisoners had been forced to go through there every morning and night before making our way into the museum, formerly the administration center. The museum overwhelmed me. So many pictures, so many horrific stories, such large numbers (over 32,000 dead in Dachau’s 12 years), I could barely stomach it. Ally and I talked about how it was possible for the guards, especially the SS, to do what they had day in and day out and still consider themselves human. The cold air outside was a relief afterward. We then walked through the special political prisoners barracks, where it was somehow even colder than outside, looking at the horrible conditions they lived in, and I marveled that these were the ones who were actually treated much better than most of the prisoners. We went into the crematorium, which included the apparently never heavily used gas chamber. I went through very quickly, it was all too easy to imagine what the building had been like when it was used, and the pictures, often taken by prisoners and hidden from the guards, made me feel distinctly unwell. It was especially disturbing to think that the very pretty trees around us, and the grass that grew in spring and summer, was all grown on ashes from the dead.

After another walk around the grounds, Ally and I decided that was enough, and headed back to Munich. It was nice to put aside what we had seen for a bit and discuss other things. I got to know her a bit better, chatting about her life (14) and plans, and discussing where else we should visit. When we got back to town, we had a drink at Starbucks, and then she went home to finish recovering from a cold, while I went back to Garching to get ready for my planned night out.

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Categories: Germany, Personal

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