Disclaimer: This post was written on 19 Aug, 6 weeks into my new semester in uni and 7 weeks after the end of my Europe trip.
Our trip to Dachau was one of the highlights of my entire trip because it filled me a lot regarding WWII. Unfortunately I didn’t get to study this in any part of 13 years of education. When I was a Secondary 2 student (14 years old), we were taught about the occupation of Singapore but the involvement of other countries wasn’t discussed. So, very embarrassing to say, I have almost no knowledge of how everything transpired. (I did know how it ended though.)
This understanding of WWII from my trip was very exciting for me because I was learning it at the place where action happened. Germany is also very open about educating masses about he events of the war and all the exhibitions that I came across (i.e. Obersalzburg in Berchestgaden, Dachau and NS documentation museum in Munich) have been very informative and easy for a beginner like me to digest.
At first we wanted to do a tour with InMunich tours but it costs 18 euros… So we settled for guided tours provided by the office in Dachau for 3 euros. Bern, an experienced and old tour guide led us (a group of 30+) around the whole compound.
The greatest advantage of any tours (also applicable to lectures in general) is that someone is telling you the information. As compared to reading them somewhere yourself (which can be sleep inducing and boring sometimes). Be it tour guides or lecturers, they are like story tellers and Bern was one of them.
He brought us around and I realised that we mostly stopped at places with signboards for him to explain the significance to us. I enjoyed the segment most where prepared his own materials to show us and to help us visualize how the conditions were like. He didn’t cover the largest gallery (which is inside the administration building if I recall correctly) and after lunch YS and I took another 3-4 hours by ourselves reading everything hahaha.
I took some notes when Bern was talking to help me remember the pieces of information that I took away from the morning. Here they are (please alert me if there is any factual inaccuracies):
- Dachau is a forced labour camp for political prisoners/education camp for political opponents and war crime suspects. Intimidation was one of the main purpose of the concentration camp. However, it was never meant as a concentration or death camp. But many died in experiments, from harsh labour, poor living conditions and diseases. (Typhus was a big killer. So were hunger, TB and hypothermia.)
- Even so, its death rate was low as compared to extermination camps.
- Dachau was an all male camp. Women were sent to subsidiary camps.
- It was also a model for other concentration camps and a show piece camp for multinational organisations to prove that they were well organised camps for bumps and prisoners. (It fooled even the Red Cross delegates…) But it was not the worst or the biggest camp. In fact, it was the easiest to escape.
- Special treatment meant execution.
- Prisoners were stripped of property rights and human dignity. Bern read out an excerpt of what the prisoners would typically hear when entering the camp: The jailor calls himself a devil and the prisoners as ‘shit’, ‘pigs’ and ‘non human beings’.
- It was first managed by Heinrich himmler, Chief police of Munich.
- Only later came other prisoners, like the Czechs and Polish. They were assigned the bunkers farthest away from the kitchen and some would die of hypothermia along the way to get meals in the harsh winter. Soviet prisoners of war arrived as well but some were killed by being sending to other camps.
During the tour, Berns also tried asking his audience (which was internationally represented by visitors from a good range of different countries) about their perspectives on some topics. I think he created a good platform for everyone to exchange their thoughts and understand one another in a respectful way. He also welcomed any questions and one of the visitors enquired about how she could find the record of a relative who came to this camp before. All in all, it was a great morning listening to the lessons delivered by Berns. He is passionate in educating the public about WWII and most of all, in spreading the message against racism.
Our tour ended at the ‘showers’+incinerator which is now openly known to everyone as a euphemism/code/lie for the gas chambers. However there was no evidence/ records of anyone even sent to be gassed… So it actually remains a ‘mystery’ till today why they built the ‘showers’. I asked a few questions to clear some doubts and YS and I visited the different churches (Orthodox, protestant, Catholic and Judaism) before heading to the visitor centre for lunch. The food was reasonably priced and definitely satisfying enough to fuel us up for our self-tour during the 2nd part of the day!
We spent approx 2h at the gallery and another 1h touring the prison cells. Initially I though we could finish everything in 1/2 day hahaha so we had to cancel our afternoon plans and shift it to the last day in Munich.
Other information that I gathered myself later (please alert me if there is any factual inaccuracies):
- Germany suffered loss of honour and finances due to unconditional surrender. Hence, many people were not contented and wanted to make Germany great again.
- Democracy only reached 33% at maximum votes. Germans support Hitler genuinely as long as he delivered his promises and successful.
- Antisemitism started because Catholics believed Jews crucified Jesus.
- 3.5mi soviet soldiers and 50mi Jewish perished in WWII.
- Learning about the camps around Europe: Ravensbruck for Jewish women, later became a medical experiment camp. Bergen Belsen had Anne Frank. Lublin was a killing factory (17,000 deaths per day). There were many other subsidiary camps for building Bunkers and many prisoners were, unfortunately, buried inside.
- Intellectual activities, like chess and reading, were forms of escapism but they did not have much time for leisure. In their spare time, they had to clean dishes, make beds or polish the floor to uphold the cleanliness of their bunks or be punished.
- Invitations were given to car manufacturers to hire the prisoners for forced Labour. On their ‘CVs’, information available include whether the prisoner had any gold filling and probable lifespan.
- Handicapped were killed in euthanasia programmes, carried out in unlikely institutions like hospitals. However, such massacre was never kept a secret. There was widespread advertising targeted at tax payers to discriminate against handicapped people and such efforts were effective in achieving its objectives.
- Pregnant women in Dachau survived, unlike in other camps where they were sent immediately to the gas Chambers
- Dachau camp was famous for experimenting with the limits of hypothermia and low pressure experiments to find out how low an altitude a pilot could fly
- Prisoners were forced to shave as a sign of degradation and dehumanisation.
- The guards knew how to turn prisoners against one another – by offering bribes and special positions.
- 2 plagues at the entrance belonging to 2 different armoured divisions who claimed that they liberated the prisoners. But actually they were only commended by the general and an entirely different division was the true rescuer of the prisoners in Dachau.