While in Munich we visited the Dachau concentration camp. It was recommended highly on all the visitor sights we looked at. Let me say at the outset that I would not consider this as a tourist attraction. You don’t go there to take photos, buy souvenirs and eat ice cream. You go there to observe, to carefully listen (if you have a guide) and try and comprehend the horror that occurred there.
We chose to go with a guide and were thankful for that. All Dachau camp guides must complete an approved training course which Adam (our guide) told us was very thorough. There was no doubt about it: he knew his stuff. We stopped outside the main gate and Adam explained the rise of Hitler to full power, the inception of the Nazi regime and the beginnings of the Nazi Concentration Camps. And they all had their beginning at Dachau. Dachau was important became the prototype and pattern for all the other camps.
Adam then walked us slowly through the camp, following the footsteps of the multitude of poor souls that entered the camp some 75 years prior. He described their experience vividly. They were roughly offloaded from the train station at Dachau, marched through the streets of the town (the locals were therefore quite aware of what was going on) and to the main camp site which was located some 8 km away.
Upon entering the main gate they were lined up and then listened to a long tirade by a Nazi officer that they were worthless scum and pieces of …….. (I won’t use the language), that all commands must be obeyed unquestionably and insubordination of any kind would be met with a bullet to the head. This was no idle threat and occurred frequently.
This was followed by camp registration. All personal belongings (personal ID, photographs and documents) were handed over and in return you were given a number. You were then shaved, showered and handed prison clothes.
The guards purposefully handed out ill-fitting clothes so that more punishments could be handed out during parade, which occurred at least twice, sometimes three times a day in the large area in the centre of the camp. You can see this area clearly in the pictures.
Following registration you were assigned to a suitable work area (depending on skill and level of strength) and one of the barracks. Each of the barrack buildings were designed to house 40 people. But then as pressure on the camps increased this was increased to 200 per building. They were made of very cheap materials because Goebbels believed the camps would no longer be in existence after 1950 when the Nazi goal had been achieved. The decision was made after the camp was liberated by the Allies to rebuild two of the huts as a testament to what occurred there. All that is left of the other huts are the foundations (which are also visible in the photographs I took).
It was difficult listening to Adam explain how various methods of torture were handed out. These were inflicted upon the smallest infraction of a rule, from not giving the right answer to leaving a finger print on a cup. Probably the most ghastly was the pole hanging, where the hands were tied behind the back and then pulled upwards in a near vertical position (try to imagine someone wrenching your arms up behind your head) from where you were hung. This method of torture was later banded as it rendered prisoners unfit for work duties (their shoulder joints were wrecked).
But there were other methods of torture which were still horrible (such as the rack used for beatings) and were all described in detail by surviving prisoners afterwards at the Nuremberg trials. And then there were the experiments that were carried out on live prisoners: high altitude pressure testing to help to better equip the Luftwaffe pilots, how much seawater a person could drink (should one end up in the sea) and finding a cure for malaria. Hundreds died from this kind of barbaric and inhuman research.
You are likely at this point be wondering about the gas chambers. We did see one at the end of our tour. Walking into one and seeing the false shower heads in the ceiling and imagining the utter horror for those who met their death in this manner, was a shocking experience for me. I didn’t take any photos. No one did. However, it was made clear to us that Dachau was not designed for that purpose (unlike Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Ravensbruck and other such camps). Dachau was a concentration camp, not a death camp. Though many did end up perishing in Dachau, from starvation, torture, disease and mass execution.
Near the end we passed a memorial. It was a figure of one of the prisoners at Dachau. Beneath were the words in German: “Remember the Dead, Warn the Living.” Warn the living of what? Of what happened and could happen again. Yes – again. Genocide is still being practiced around the world today. Millions continue to perish at the hands of dictators and thugs, madmen who want to be gods and rule the world. History is riddled with them, each of them antichrists in their own right.
Dachau is an example of what the sinful heart is capable of when there are no restraints. And it is grotesque. Visitors are aghast at the extent of evil that was present there. One can just sense it within it’s walls. But its seed is inside everyone of us. Take the slightest irritation toward a fellow human, a small craving to control the world around you and a flicker of hatred in your heart and blow it up into an unusually large degree. There you have Dachau. Only you are wearing the uniform. You may wonder if I’m going over the top with this. Jesus would think otherwise.
The answer to Dachau is not more education, so as to warn people never to allow this to happen again (because it will). The answer is a new mind and a new heart – for all of us. And that is something only the Saviour Jesus – who experienced the most horrific Dachau of all – the Father’s judgment on our sin, can do.