"Dachau" Top 5 Page for this destination Dachau by nicolaitan
Dachau Travel Guide: 169 reviews and 479 photos
The red brick train station isn't new, but it is clean and comes with a McDonald's on the upper level. The main bus station is right out the front door, appears new, with lanes for the different bus lines and excellent signage. Driving through the main streets, one and two story buildings house restaurants and upscale stores. Further evidence for the comfortable living style here are the large houses, nice cars, well tended lawns shrubbery and gardens. Fast flowing streams and pockets of undeveloped woodlands are interspersed. The bus route ends in a park like area. New condominiums line an old camp drawing visitors from all over the world. This could be any prosperous suburban commuter town in the world, but it isn't.
Just five weeks after gaining control of German politics in 1933, Hitler oversaw the opening of the first prison to be known as a concentration camp just outside the village of Dachau in an abandoned WWI munitions plant. Its name for all time will be linked to man's inhumanity to man. Yet internet research reveals that in many ways Dachau was quite different although in some ways much worse than the well-known extermination camps. Dachau was first and foremost a prison for political prisoners. Until Kristallnacht Jews were only a small percentage of inmates, mostly political prisoners. After Kristallnacht over 10000 Jews were sent here, but almost all were released within weeks after arranging to leave Germany. Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and Jehovah's Witnesses did not become a large part of the population until the 1940's. Dachau was classified a Class I camp, indicating that the inmates were expected to be rehabilitated and released.
The first commandant, Theodore Eicke, made Dachau a prototype for all the other camps to follow both with respect to the physical plant and to the sadistic and cruel life imposed upon the imprisoned. Over 12 years, 200000+ were registered here and the official death toll is approximately 35000. The true number of dead is undoubtedly much higher comprised of those not registered - mainly Russian soldiers executed on arrival and deaths from typhus and forced marches at the end of WWII. Only the marches were primarily comprised of Jews who apparently numbered less than one third of the total population throughout the 12 years this camp existed. Still even the highest death estimates rarely exceed 60000 compared with the millions executed at the death camps. At least 15000 of these deaths ocurred in the last year or less before liberation. So death, either of enemies of the state or unacceptable ethnic groups, was not the primary mission of the Dachau camp.
Abundant evidence supports this conclusion. One Kommandant of Dachau was relieved for excessive cruelty to prisoners. As many as 200 SS officers were executed over 10 years for overzealous mistreatment of those imprisoned. Why? Because Dachau was foremost a prison work camp, at one point with over 130 subcamps with the prisoners performing hard labor or manufacture to abet the Nazi movement, industry, and World War II. By the end of the war, two camps each with over 30000 workers were included in the Dachau universe, each involved in manufacture of war related equipment. Therefore, prisoners here were actually better fed and cared for than in most camps. Health care was better. The use of relatively capable prison labor aided the Nazi cause, not the least financially.
The true evil of Dachau lies then in the mission of destroying the souls, the humanity, and the will to resist despotism in those imprisoned. Life in this prison was a horror, with death an unavoidable and not unwelcomed ancillary benefit. The multifaceted approach to dehumanization included horrid living conditions, barely adequate diet, constant physical and emotional abuse both by guards and by certain "superior" prisoners, and most important, severe and cruel punishments either individually or as a group for even the most minor infractions of the complex and labyrinthine rules of behavior created by Commandant Eicke. In the last years of the war, as supplies and food decreased resulting in increased death toll related to starvation and disease like typhus, the delicate balance between maintaining a work force and death disintegrated and conditions in Dachau became inhumane. In the waning months of the war, forced marches and crowded train cars were used to move prisoners to other camps - untold thousands died on these trips because of starvation, illness, and execution. The liberation of the camp in April 1945 by US troops found an overcrowded camp of living skeletons in filthy striped uniforms and living without basic sanitation or health care. Despite food and medicine, many more would die from typhus and the effects of malnutrition after the liberation. Our knowledge of Dachau derives mostly from the condition of the camp at this time, lamentable. In the tips to follow and with space available, I hope to detail some of the atrocities visited upon those imprisoned, particularly near the end of WWII.
For independent travel from Munich, the train to Dachau leaves from the main train station and takes well less than half... more travel advice
The statue of the Unknown Inmate, by Fritz Koelle, celebrates the resistance of the camp population to the strict... more travel advice
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