Honoring the Past of the Dachau Concentration Camp

By Tara OGrady 

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the beauty of the places you go to. This past weekend I was overwhelmed by the beauty of Munich, but what overwhelmed me even more was the emotional experience of visiting the Dachau Concentration Camp. The sun hid from the day, and the mist came down like slow falling tears. This is fitting because Dachau Concentration Camp was one of the first and most popular concentration camps during Hitler’s Nazi reign over Germany. It is the only camp to have existed for the entire twelve years of Nazi rule. The silence of the space is eerie, but honorable. You can feel a sense of mourning as you walk through the exact location where hatred and horror took place. As I was walking through the grounds, I was happy to stray away from my friends and take in my surroundings. We all slowly gravitated to the places that drew our individual attention. The solitude and silence that filled the space impacted the experience even more. There is nothing to distract your attention away from what matters—educating yourself and honoring the memories of all those who were victims of the tragedy. Everyone respectfully gives their full attention to what matters most—the same reason why the Dachau Concentration Camp is now a public place; to remember and honor the terrible past and those who it affected. 

As most students in the United States, I learned about World War II and the tragedies that occurred, but it’s a different experience when you learn of the past in the same place it occurred. One section explained how the SS could at any time shoot the prisoners if they stepped out of line for any reason. And as I walked to the opposite side of the room, I saw a wall with photos of the victims and wondered if they were shot for a minor infraction, or if they died from the poor health conditions. I learned that the SS would take the prisoners who were “out of line” during that day or week, and as the thunder roared or the church bells chimed, they would shoot them so the noise was hidden. And again I’m left to wonder how one person could think that their actions, which they knew must be hidden, were justifiable. One of the many things I read was how the SS informed the prisoners upon their arrival that because of their race they lost all of their basic human rights. They told them that they would no longer be treated like humans. Their hatred was not masked in any way because racial discrimination was legal and encouraged. Across from the museum are the bunkers were the prisoners slept. There were 500 of them, but only room for 100. The beds were wooden and not nearly long enough or wide enough for one man let alone 3 or even 5. This is just one sad example of a basic human right that they unrightfully lost. 

As I walked out along the road that led me in, I took a moment of silence for all those who didn’t. I rejoined my friends in the silent circle they created on the street outside. We all looked at each other with sorrowful expressions and tried to find the words to convey the sadness we felt. In that moment we knew, that while this was a sad and emotional experience, it was also a necessary one. That’s why if you ever have the opportunity to visit any concentration camp, take it, because while it will be emotionally overwhelming, it is also important to honor, respect, and educate yourself on the horrible history of Nazi Germany. 

Tara OGrady