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. Berns, 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, for you to listen. Rather than having to read them somewhere yourself (which can be sleep inducing and boring sometimes). Be it tour guides or lecturers, they are like story tellers and Berns 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 Berns 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. Never meant as a concentration or death camp. But many died in experiments and from harsh labour, poor living conditions and diseases. (Typhus was a big killer. So were hunger, TB and hypothermia.) Low death rate as compared to extermination camps.
- All male camp. Women sent to subsidiary camps.
- A model for other concentration camps. But not the worst or biggest. Easiest to escape. Also 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…)
- Special treatment meant execution.
- Prisoners were stripped of property rights and human dignity. Berns 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’.
- First managed by Heinrich himmler, Chief police of Munich.
- 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.
- Only later there was arrival of other prisoners, like the Czechs and Polish. Harsh punishment for not making beds properly or laziness. 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 also came later. Some were killed by 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.
- ‘I am the member of the Master race.’
- Anti semitism started because Catholics believed Jews crucified Jesus.
- Bunkers used as improvised housing area for 12.5mi German refugees after WWII. Held 10x of the original number of prisoners that it was constructed for.
- 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 per day. Many other subsidiary camps for building Bunkers. Many prisoners buried inside.
- Invitations were given to car manufacturers to rent forced Labour. On the ‘CV’ include whether the prisoner had any gold filling and probable lifespan.
- Handicapped were killed in euthanasia programmes, carried out in masked centers like hospitals. But they were never kept a secret. Advertising targeted at healthy tax payers to discriminate handicapped people as inferior race was effective.
- Pregnant women in Dachau survived, unlike in other camps where they were sent immediately to the gas Chambers
- Famous for hypothermia and low pressure experiments – to what altitude can pilot 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.
- Intellectual activities like chess and reading as forms of escapism. In free time they had to clean dishes, make beds or polish the floor. Not much free time per se.