There wasn’t a campsite near to Dachau in Germany, so we booked into a hotel. It was called something like the Tulip Inn Alp Style, so we were expecting some sort of quaint Alpine-style lodge, but what we got was a concrete block overlooking a roundabout and a Burger King. But it was clean and modern inside, so it was fine with us.
I was a bit hot and sweaty from sitting in the car all day, so I decided that before I had a shower I may as well get myself even more sweaty by going for a run. I got to the main road, randomly picked a direction and set off. I hadn’t been running for very long when I saw a watchtower and barbed wire.
Our purpose for coming to this area of Germany was to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, which I’ll admit is not a typical kind of holiday destination. As depicted in the Why We Fight episode of Band of Brothers, Easy Company liberated one of the satellite camps of Dachau, at Buchloe. There is nothing left of that site, so we decided to visit the main camp, which is now a memorial centre and museum. It’s a grim but important piece of Easy Company history.
Even though I’d done research into the location of the hotel, I had no idea it was quite so close to the camp, and it came as a bit of a shock to be jogging past it, it looked very eerie and imposing against the grey sky, which was by now promising rain.
It felt fitting that the weather stayed grey and cloudy the next day when we visited the camp. I expected it to be a very emotional experience, and it was, but not quite in the way I’d imagined. I cry easily, and I expected to be a blubbering wreck throughout our visit, but instead I just felt drained and exhausted.
Dachau was the first Concentration Camp built by the Nazis, and it was in operation almost continually for the whole 12 years of Nazi rule. It was used as a template for the other camps, and also as a training facility for the SS. Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz, was a product of Dachau’s training programme. The people imprisoned here were mostly political prisoners at first, but this was widened to include Jewish people, homosexuals, gypsies, beggars and criminals.
I found it all very hard to process. The camp was enormous, especially the main yard where the prisoners were made to line up for hours for roll call. To think that this was one of a series of camps in the Dachau area, which was in turn part of the even bigger network of camps across the whole of the Nazi territory is mind-boggling to me. I have difficulty extrapolating the figures on that sort of scale.
I also found it difficult to process the horrors the prisoners were subjected to, which included sadistic experiments into infectious diseases and the effects of air pressure on the human body. The crematorium here is intact, as is the gas chamber, and although there is no evidence to suggest the gas chamber was ever put into large-scale operation, I still did not want to set foot in there. This was the part of the camp I found most affecting, there is a memorial trail behind the crematorium with markers placed at various points where there are mass graves, or where there were execution areas. My eyes welled with tears a few times and I felt physically sick, but on the whole I just felt too stunned to cry. I found it all so unfathomable.
I think everyone should visit a place like this just once, to see the devastating effect that prejudice, hatred and ignorance has on the world. I left the camp feeling drained, exhausted, and with a real sense of despair at what humans are capable of.
We’d planned to go out for dinner, but neither of us were really in the mood, so we retreated to our concrete block hotel with supplies from the supermarket, and had a hotel room picnic. The following day we’d be heading to Austria.