Last updated: 01/11/2019
Check out our exciting visit to the Dachau Concentration Camp, the first Nazi Concentration Camp in history, located in Germany.
THE DECISION TO VISIT THE DACHAU CAMP
It took me a long time to work up the courage to write this post about our visit to Dachau in 2012. I remember the husband as if he were today, initially criticizing my decision to visit a concentration camp. "You are crazy? Why use a day of our long-awaited vacation for this?” And I replied: “Holidays are not just for fun, they are for living a different experience, for learning, for being closer to the history of the place and the world.”
And off we went for a day trip from Munich (see the post: Germany: What to do in Munich – 5-Day Itinerary) to the city of Dachau somewhat against his will. We haven't had the opportunity to visit Auschwitz, Poland yet, but it's on the list. After seeing the first concentration camp in history, we intend (I'll take my husband with me again!) to visit the biggest one. And I will probably feel even more agony than I felt at Dachau.
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HOW TO VISIT DACHAU CAMP
- TRAIN + BUS: Getting to Camp Dachau is relatively simple. It is necessary to take the S2 train (direction Dachau/Petershausen) from Munich station to Dachau station (buy tickets on the website of Deutsch Bahn). The train journey takes about 25 minutes. Arriving at the station it is necessary take bus 726 (towards Saubachsiedlung) to the KZ-Gedenkstätte (German name of the Camp). Buy the ticket for a “München XXL” day that entitles you to the train + bus trip in Dachau. see the website MMV München for more information. Going on your own, you'll have as much time as you like to get to know the place and explore the exhibition. It costs absolutely nothing to enter.
- WITH GUIDE: After searching, I decided leaving with a guide from Munich to Dachau and I thought it was really worth it. It was a small group tour using the same means of transport (train + bus) that if we were on our own. The difference is that we would have a native German to tell us a little about the history and guide us with detailed explanations of the main places in the Campo. So we think it was worth paying for. Our guide was great and answered many questions that arose during the visit. Anyone interested in going with a guide, the tour we hired was this one: “Dachau Concentration Camp Tour from Munich“. The tour lasts 5 hours and the price already includes public transport.
Dachau is a small town of 45 thousand inhabitants, located at 20 km northwest of Munich, in southern Germany, founded in the 9th century. Although its friendly historic center has a castle, everyone who comes to Dachau has as their main destination a visit to the infamous Concentration Camp.
THE DACHAU CONCENTRATION CAMP
The Dachau Concentration Camp was the first concentration camp opened by the Nazis in Germany and was operative between the years 1933 to 1945, when it was discovered by American troops. It is estimated that more than 188,000 people passed through there (32,000 documented deaths and thousands undocumented). Approximately 30,000 people were freed at the end of World War II.
The field is located in land of an old munitions factory, in the old medieval city center. Opened in 1933 by Heinrich Himmler, the purpose included forced labor at the munitions factory and the construction of a complex to house 6,000 people. The site was used as a training ground for SS (Nazi Police) soldiers and became a model for the other concentration camps, being used as a prison for Jews, common German and Austrian criminals, and finally foreign citizens of countries that Germany occupied or invaded.
In the post-war years, Camp Dachau was used to hold SS soldiers awaiting trial for their war crimes. After 1948, the site was used as a US military base during the German occupation. In 1960, the activities of the Field were closed and, in 1965, the Memorial was opened to the public.
WHAT TO KNOW IN DACHAU CAMP
The map below shows the location of the Dachau Concentration Camp areas. There is an information center where you can rent an audio guide (in Portuguese). As we were accompanied by a guide, we skipped the audio guide part and went straight to the complex.
- Right at the entrance to the field there is a gate (number 2 on the map) as the saying “Arbeit macht frei” (Work makes you free, in German), which was the slogan of Nazi propaganda. The gate had been stolen in 2014 and was found in Norway in late 2016.
- In the main building (where the letters from A to G on the map) there are exhibits explaining the context of the Second World War, Nazism, living conditions in the Dachau camp, prisoners and many details about day-to-day life in the camp. There is even an area that shows a movie about the place.
- The main memorial called “International Monument” (#5 on the map) is quite moving. Made by artist Nandor Glid (whose parents were killed at Auschwitz) in 1968, it depicts bodies writhing on top of each other.
- There is an area with cells for prisoners (#6) which is next to the main building. We saw some of these cells and were terrified by the stories told by our guide. One is that there were rooms that were so cramped that they didn't allow the prisoner to be able to sit down.
- A lot has changed since the time the prisoners were there. The shacks in which they were housed were demolished due to bad conditions and only two were rebuilt (#7) to show the horror of living without any respect for human dignity. The other 32 sheds that were not rebuilt have floor markings made by concrete foundations.
- The memorial erected some chapels to represent the various religions followed by the prisoners. They are: Russian Orthodox Chapel (#11), Protestant Church of Reconciliation (#12), Catholic Chapel of the Mortal Agony (#13), Carmelite Convent (#14), Jewish Memorial (#15).
- The area indicated by number 10 on the map was the one that made me uncomfortable during the visit: the crematorium. To reach the place, one passes through a small bridge. There are rooms that could be used to kill prisoners with lethal gas (although apparently they were never used for this purpose). There is also a room where bodies were piled up to be taken to be cremated. By the time our guide took us to the room with the piled up bodies, I had to go out for air and I missed part of the explanation. I didn't start to feel good because it felt like there was a strong smell that bothered me a lot. Also, thinking about everything that happened there made me very uncomfortable.
WAS IT WORTH GOING?
Certainly! Much of what we learned in history books was being told before our eyes by the Germans themselves. One interesting thing that we noticed when visiting museums dedicated to the war and visiting this memorial is that the German people do not want to hide their past, because everyone knows about the atrocities committed. They are ashamed of it all and don't want history to repeat itself ever again. Personally, visiting a concentration camp is a life lesson, a gigantic learning experience. We complain about so many insignificant things in our daily lives, that a visit like this makes us rethink a lot and give value to what really matters.
- Address: Alte Römerstrasse 75, 85221 Dachau, Germany
- Schedules: daily from 9 am to 5 pm
- Entrance: free / parking €3 per car / audio guide €3.50
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Read more about attractions in southern Germany:
- Germany: What to do in Munich – 5-Day Itinerary
- Germany: The amazing Romantic Road
- Germany: Würzburg – first city on the Romantic Road
- Germany: Rothenburg ob der Tauber on the Romantic Road
- Germany: Christmas shop in Rothenburg ob der Tauber
- Germany: Things to do in Cologne
- Germany: Cologne Cathedral and the 3 Magi
- Germany: Chocolate Museum in Cologne