Friday, September 6, 2013

Arbeit Macht Frei- Dachau

"Despite everything I believe that people are really good at heart" Anne Frank

As a cashier for Edelweiss Lodge and Resort, I am very lucky to be able to have so much guest ineraction and ask about their daily adventures. If I'm stuck working believe me I want to hear about how great your day was. After tours they all look exhausted, yet extremely happy except for one bunch every Sunday. This was the tour for Dachau concentration camp. After a few Sundays I understood the tour schedule, saw this group, showed them exactly where the dessert was, and prescribed them a Disney movie and a hug before bed.

My avid readers (my mama and grandma) know from one of my first posts, my bucket list for life, but for those who don't (everyone else), visiting a concentration camp was a top priority for me. I visited Anne Frank's house when I was 14 and then took a Holocaust and Genocide class in college. So for a weekend off and only six weeks left in Garmisch I had to kick my bucket list into high gear. Two days off. One day at Dachau. One day in Salzburg doing the Sound of Music bike tour. Can I just say that I am so glad I did it in that order.

America and Europe display sights and show history in extremely different ways. I believe in America things are roped off and explained without pictures or movies thus keeping a physical and emotional distance for visitors. In Europe, you are there. Physically, mentally, emotionally there. As a breif introduction Dachau was one of the first concentration camps opened in 1933. It is unknown how many lives were suffered and lost at Dachau.

As you enter, there is a gate that states "Arbeit Macht Frei,"  meaning "work makes you free," which is a sarcastic, sick comment because Dachau was known for working people to death. The first thing you will notice is how clean the bunkers, prison, and everything is. This is how the camp was run. Everything had to be spotless. Many were driven mad by the fear of loosing a button on one's uniform, the bed not perfectly made, or a cigarette butt dropped by one's bed. This would lead one to public humiliation, sent to the prison, or even killed.

In this picture is the prison for Dachau. The
difference that you don't see is this prison was used once more after WWII. This time they decided to put in the windows you see today to make it a little more bearable. They also realized many rooms were made soundproof as so the neighbors of Dachau could not hear the screams. No words.

There was a cell (this photo) used in the prison.. except that this was used for punishment as the "standing cell." Really this cell was divided into four individual cells 70cm by 70cm. This would make it so the prisoners would and could only stand. No sitting, no fresh air, barely any food or water, all up to three days. No words.

I am a people person. I like to people watch and it was heartbreaking to see Dachau, but also interesting to see how people cope with this overload of emotion. There was this part of camp with a concrete line, some grass, and then an electrical fence surrounding the camp. We were told that once a prisoner stepped over that concrete line onto the grass it was assumed that they were trying to escape or committing suicide, so the guards from the towers above had full permission to shoot. So with our tour it was interesting how people interacted with this line: some people casually walked over the line, some couldn't walk over the line- they walked around to where there was no grass, one man ran across,  and others hesitated before crossing. You are so immersed in this horrific time period and place  of torture while putting yourself in the mindset of these people who were in survival mode, I actually caught myself hesitating and looking at the guard tower as if looking to see if someone was still there watching my move. It was one of the weirdest and most outlandish moments in my life.

Next was the crematorium. Dachau set up a gas chamber that was designed to kill 150 people within 20 minutes by exposing them to lethal gases in a enclosed space. This was never actually used for mass murder, but there have been accounts of smaller groups of people killed within that room. Again, America with the roping off and no pictures. I actually stood in that room. It is an unreal moment when you realize that you are standing in the exact room where so much horror happened. Random but there was also a guest bathroom open to visitors right next to this room. I couldn't use it for the life of me. The crematorium was right next to the room. Each stove could hold up to three bodies.

We were then told to go along this path. Me being naive thought it would be a rememberance path with memorials. Nope. It was the firing range. Again, immersed physically, mentally, and emotionally. Just walked right up to the wall. I could do nothing but stare at it for a solid five minutes. No words.

I have seen many Holocaust memorials and now Dachau that one thing I will say is that people are so beautifully creative to show their respect and honor those lives that have been taken away during this time period. My favorite so far is the  Holocaust memorial in Budapest with the shoes (refer to the Lucky 13 post), so simple yet so powerful. Dachau has a bell that is rung every day at 3pm because that was the time that Dachau was liberated. There is also a Jewish memorial in that you walk into this cavelike place, it gets really dark, and then at the end at the very top there is a spot open to the sky. So there was darkness and then light. So simple yet so powerful.

There is a museum that goes through the entire time line of the war, Dachau, and the many many troubles after the war. It is dense. A must do in Dachau, but brace yourself. Again, pictures and videos everywhere. The medical experiments, the living conditions, the mass graves- it's all there.  As horrific as this was I would not trade this experience for anything. It is something anyone and everyone must see. What I was very impressed with was that 9th graders in Bavaria have to visit Dachau and German military personnel trying to move up in the job ladder must visit as well. It is not swept under the rug as if to forget the past, but more a gruesome, terrible lesson that must never be repeated.

I have to say that this trip makes your firmly believe in the sayings "it's all good" and "pick your battles, this is not one of them." Just know that if you go on a trip like this and then go back to "normal life" the next day, hear someone complain about something non-important, you will have the strongest urge to smack them. Don't do it. This trip puts life in perspective for you. So many lives were taken and destroyed before they could even truly live. Don't wait, make your dreams a reality not just a constant thought, tell the people who have changed your life for the better whether large or small that your life would not have been the same without them, tell the people important to you that you love them, and always live life to the fullest. Don't wait.

I apologize if this has completely brought you down, but just remember this: Within this terror we must remember the love and care those people showed one another whether family, friends, or complete strangers. Lives were saved because of the kindness and bravery one showed upon another in such a hellish time. There will always be good even when surrounded by evil, so here is Anne Frank's quote once again:

"Despite everything I believe that people are really good at heart" Anne Frank

There will always be good even when surrounded by evil. 

So the quote of the blog post. I have loved this quote for so long. Jimi Hendrix is one with words and I think it's perfect for this post. And with that I thank you for letting me share this difficult trip and I prescribe to you: ice cream, a Disney movie, and a hug.