A Somber Visit to Dachau Concentration Camp

 In July 2017, I had the chance to visit Dachau concentration camp when I was travelling in Munich. It was a memorable , a somber visit as I learned a lot about the world war history particularly during the time of Nazi occupation which has influenced the world we are are living in today. The buildings, the land , the whole  camp site brought out such cold, unfortunate, tormented atmosphere and everything took place there was clearly depicted in the museum and guided tours.

Introduction to concentration camp

For those who are not familiar with what a concentration camp is and its story during the Nazi occupation, here is a brief introduction: It was initially the camp built for the purpose to accommodate political prisoners when the Third Reich was founded in 1933. Adolf Hitler was the chancellor of this Reich and the leader of The National Socialist party. In the beginning of his dictatorship, things were settled to improve Hitler's power in Germany by killing the leader of the SA (Sturmabteilung), Ernst Röhm, and many of Hitler's political opponents in the movement called the Röhm Putsch. This marked the rise of the SS (Schutzstaffel) and the Gestapo. Three years later, Nuremberg Laws were made which intensified the racial discrimination between the German and the Jews. The Jews in most European countries no longer held rights for Reich citizenship and they were arrested and sent to the concentration camps. In 1939, More of these camps were built in all over Germany, Austria, and Poland, to prison the Jews where they were forced to work, tortured, killed, and treated inhumanely. Most of them were located in the outskirt of a town, or in a small village, the local people had no idea such place exist and they were not allowed to enter or even to find out what was in there. There were more than 40,000 concentration camps built across Europe, some of them also served as extermination camps, and most of them were concentrated around Germany, Poland, and Austria as you can see in the map below.

Holocaust map of Eastern Europe, indicating locations of major Nazi concentration and death camps.

Source: https://www.thoughtco.com/concentration-and-death-camps-map-1779690

No clear reason as to why Hitler hate the Jews so much, out of so many race exist in this world. From my research on few holocaust related literatures , the root simple reason was believed to be ENVY.  According to the book "Why the Germans? Why the Jews?: Envy, Race Hatred, and the Prehistory of the Holocaust" by Götz Aly, what drove the German majority to envy the success of the Jewish minority was the fact that the Germans were about to establish social equality and to promote even wealth distribution among the people in Germany.  However, the presence of the increasing number of highly skilled and educated Jews threatened them - so nothing actually related to their religion.

Another best part of my visit was reading many stories and memoirs of holocaust survivors and listening to their recording tape about their experience in the camp. I could feel from their voice that remembering, revisiting the time of their life between 1939-1945 was the last thing they wanted to do. Until now, people still couldn't believe how could human beings did such terrible things to other human beings. But of course, not all Germans are Nazi. It was just a propaganda that affected some people.

Dachau concentration camp was built in 1933 and was the first prisoner camp in which the design was then used in the building of other concentration camps.


Getting to Dachau

Visiting Dachau while you are in Munich is actually very easy. The easiest way (hassle free) is by joining a group tour. There are several groups tours in Munich available for this and the price you pay is already including the train ticket and the tours. I would recommend the Sandeman Tour : http://www.neweuropetours.eu/munich/en/home , or the Radius tour : http://radiustours.com/en/.

If you want to go by yourself (feeling a bit adventurous), it is also really easy and you can save some bucks! All you need is a day train ticket of Munich XXL, because Dachau is located one zone away from Munich City, and this ticket also allows you to go back to Munich and anywhere within the XXL region (green shade in map) for the whole day until 6 am the next day. The train that goes to Dachau are the S2 line towards Altomunster or Petershausen. It takes about 1-1.5 hours to get there from Munich. 

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Parts of Dachau Concentration Camp

A you enter the from gate of the Dachau concentration camp, there will be the front building on the left, where the Visitor Centre, information, ticket desk, library and cafeteria are. Just proceed to this building and line up to get the audio guide if you want to do the self service tour. For guided tour, you may need to check their schedule. The self tour is pretty fun too. For a student, I paid EUR 2.50 for the entrance + the audio guide + map. 

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After exiting the building, just proceed to the part where the actual camp was. You will discover the following building if you follow the number in the map :

  1. The main road leading to SS camp  
    As you entered the camp, the main road will lead to the main SS office. There is a rail track on the side that was used for carriage transport of prisoners.

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  1. Main gate(which says "Arbeit Macht Frei") - this is the main entrance to the Jorhaus SS office and the camp


  1. Former maintenance building- serves as a Museum which exhibits books, poster, documentary films about the life in concentration camps, the people involved, and some personal details of the distinguished prisoners who were caught from other countries in Europe. This section also used to serve as the Administration office, seminar rooms, and library.


  1. Former prisoner camps - behind the museum there is the "Bunker" which served as the prison for those defiant, rebellious prisoner, to be in a harsher detention scheme and out of reach from their fellow prisoners in the barracks. Those sent here were eventually murdered.
  2. International monuments -in front of the museum, which is the main of the memorial site. The commemorative plaque was built in the memory of the prisoners with "NEVER AGAIN" written on it.

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  1. The roll call area is on front of the monument, where the prisoners used to be gathered there. This area is also the site where the carriage drops the new batch of prisoners, and you can see the rail tracks end over here.
  2. Reconstructed Barracks- rows of barracks where the prisoners are kept. In the first building, you can see how the inside looks like. There are some bunk beds with very tight space as they kept as many people as possible in it. There was common toilet and bathroom. Throughout the exhibit, there depicts the prisoners' experience and thoughts about what they were forced to do, punishments and situation inside the barracks that was too sad to imagine.

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  1. Camp road- as you walk down here, you will see a barren land that was used to be where all the barracks were. There were total of about 18 rows of barracks on both sides and you could still imagine and feel the sadness, hopelessness, the smell of tragedy, death. It was an undeniably somber walk along this road.


  1. Security installation - on the right of the museum there is a huge tall gate with barb wires all over, and a deep gutter in between this gate and the outer wall. Prisoners who tried to escape this gate were shot to death and this was believed to be the mode of suicide for most prisoners who could not bear the torture inside the camp.


  1. Catholic chapel- right at the end of the camp road, there is the catholic chapel. The design was made with a circular opening by Josef Wiedemann, to symbolize the liberation. This chapel was built in the memory and dedication to the dead comrades of all nations.
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  2. Protestant church of reconciliation - This is located at the northwest corner of the campsite. The service here is still run by the former prisoner. The architecture of this church can be described as curved walls, angular which is a form of protest to the Nazi inhumane order and numerous entrance step which represent the placement of the barracks in the camp.
  3. DSC08010DSC08011Carmelite convent- this site still serves prayers site for the nuns, dedicated for visitors to quietly think about the unfortunate souls in the camp and pray. It and was built as a symbol of live and hope within the site that is full of horror and sacrifice. More about its story can be found here https://dachau.karmelocd.de/unsere-geschichte.html
  4. Jewish memorial- this memorial was built in the memory of the fate of Jewish people that were sent to the camps. The design includes the railing on the side to symbolize the barbed wires in the camp that are so symbolic; and the ramp towards the building presents the recall of Extermination of European Jewry.

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  1. DSC08013Crematorium- this building is located at the back end of the camp. As you enter, you will find sets of oven where the prisoners's bodies were cremated. There was a room where all the dead bodies were dumped, and also a gas chamber on the other end. How sad and merciless, you could feel as there are photos and testimony of prisoners who were asked to strip and enter the chamber, which they thought to be just shower room.


  1. Grave yards of the prisoners- DSC08014Going further behind the crematorium, there is a land specially dedicated to mourn for all the dead prisoners, whose bodies were buried just not far from there.



  1. Russian orthodox chapel- just around the corner, on the other side front he crematorium, the is the Russian orthodox chapel which is smaller than the other chapel, and the newest, built by the Russian army. The architecture is also unique with an octagonal shape and filled with soil from the Soviet Union.

 There were of course a lot of things happened during this time and just like how we human live today, the holocaust victims and survivors also had their own story to share; from the tales of their survival, romance, friendship, family, all kinds of memorable life events that took place in their life. Here I recommend some books and movies about the Holocaust story that I have enjoyed so far and they helped me learn about the history.

  1. Diary of Anne Frank
  2. Schindler's List
  3. The Boy in Striped Pajamas
  4. La Vita e Bella (Life is Beautiful)
  5. The Book Thief
  6. The Zookeeper's Wife
  7. The Yellow Star (by Jennifer Roy)
  8. This Way to the Gas Ladies and Gentlemen
  9. The Hiding Place (Corrie ten Boom)
  10. Tattooist of Auschwitz (by Heather Morris)
  11. Playing for Time (1980)
  12. The Pianist
  13. The Parisian (fiction inspired by the holocaust by Pam Jenoff)
  14. The Kommandant's Girl (fiction inspired by the holocaust by Pam Jenoff)
  15. Where Hands Touch
  16. And the list goes on....


That was all about my experience in Dachau!

Please let me know if you have any other recommendations, or if you'd like to share stories of your visit, any information on concentration camps, feel free to post here and message me!




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