I have never been one to say that you need to learn about history so we never are in danger of repeating the atrocities of the past. It seemed like a pointless way of looking at history because we can’t go in the past and repeat something that is already history. My belief was that you learned about history so you could learn about where a culture has been and where they are now. It is the mistakes and choices a country made that turned it into what it is today. It is a very existential way of looking at history, and I stuck to this belief until I visited the Dachau Concentration Camp on the outskirts of Munich, Germany.
There are a few places in the world that I think everybody should visit at least once in their lifetime, two of the bigger ones being Hiroshima and Auschwitz. Both of these places give you a perspective of the world that you have never had before, and help you understand the extent that humanity will go through to prove that they are right. It makes you wonder what they were thinking at the time, and it gives you hope that society can move forward to a greater place of peace and kindness. Even though I would not put the Dachau Concentration Camp in the same category as the other two, it still allows you to see the world in a new way, and understand how terrible the Holocaust actually was. It adds another piece to the story that a visit to Auschwitz will start.
To start off with Dachau was a place where they detained Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals, but the people that were sent there were not brought there to die. Dachau was used more as a work camp for the thirteen years that it was in operation. It started off as a place where the Nazi party sent political prisoners, and people who spoke out against what was going on in Germany during the 1930s. The conditions were not great while there. They still got packed into dorms that were overcrowded. They were still beaten in inhumane ways in the showers. They were still killed for quick reasons to give the guards reason to hold the rest of the prisoners in fear, and maintain control over the population. They still conducted experiments about the effects of weightlessness, various gasses, and hypothermia, and the survival rate of those they experimented on was small. But the purpose of this sight was not to kill the prisoners, but to use them to help create ammunitions, and build planes for the war effort.
By the end of the war as Germany started to lose the war, and the purpose of the Dachau changed. The prisoners were no longer treated as kindly, and the Nazis were not worried it they died in the process of the harder labor that they had created at the concentration camp. Because of this, they built a whole new building next to the original crematorium that was already on the grounds, and it was used along with the original one to dispose of all the bodies of the recently deceased.
Dachau was the first concentration camp that the Americans had liberated on April 29th, 1945, and even though they knew that there were atrocities taking place in this country, they were not prepared for what they had found. A group of soldiers were given cameras to document the conditions of the camp, and these were the first images that the world saw about what was going on here. The film showed prisoners who were severely underfed, and piles of bodies piled outside the crematorium because of a shortage of coal did not allow the Nazis to dispose of them at that time. It demonstrated how terrible a group of people can be if they are allowed to let their ideology of hate, and nationalism go unchecked.
This brings me to probably the most interesting and disturbing part of the visit to this site. There was a whole room dedicated to the rise of Nazism in the 1930s and how they used the recent economic collapse of Germany to help sell their propaganda. It was disturbing how easily they were allowed to rise to power and which tactics they used in order to do this. They told half truths and used the fear of people not like them to help bring the people together under one dangerous ideology, and it all centered around the importance of the economy and the closing of the borders. There were many of the tactics that were used by the Nazis that are being used by many other leaders around the world as they push their own forms of nationalism. The idea of global cooperation is becoming smaller every year as more countries want to close their borders in order to hold on to an ideal that no longer exists.
Even the symbols if Nazism have been stolen over the last years in order to be used as propaganda to promote these idea of isolation. The gate of Dachau was stolen in 2014, and many people thought that it would never be recovered, but it was later found underneath a tarp in Bergen, Norway and returned to its rightful place. Around the same time the gate to Auschwitz was stolen by a Neo-Nazi organization and was split into three different sections before it was recovered.
It makes places like this even more important and people need to make the pilgrimage to these places so they don’t forget what happened here. It becomes that important lesson from history that I usually do not prescribe to. We need to make sure that these lessons are learned, so like the motto of Dachau, this atrocity will be “Never Again”.