Day 37 = April 17, 2012
Built in 1933 for political prisoners (opponents of the Nazi regime as well as communists, other political opponents, and members of trade unions), Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp. After the Nuremberg Laws were passed in 1935 (The Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor and the Reich Citizenship Law), new prisoner groups were sent to the camp, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and immigrants. By 1938, German and Austrian Jews were sent to Dachau, and in 1939, Sinti and Roma (“gypsies”) were imprisoned as well.
David and I visited Dachau back in the 1990’s. I had vivid memories of the museum’s exhibit on medical experiments on prisoners, and I was pretty concerned about Quinland seeing it. After twenty years, of course, the museum had completely changed; not only were the exhibits different, but the space was laid out differently, too. (There is an excellent Virtual Tour at the camp website, if you have more interest.)
We started at the small theater, watching a documentary film to give Quinland an overview of what she’d be seeing. We then looked through the museum. You start in the area where the prisoners were first inducted, then through the room where they were bathed before being given their prison uniforms. Then you went into the main exhibit in the maintenance building where they had the bulk of the information. There were displays about the history of the camp, much of which I remembered, but also displays about the various types of prisoners who were held there, and the different ways they were treated. There was a section on the medical experimentation – especially the tests of hypothermia and low pressure chambers that were conducted on prisoners of war – but thankfully, it wasn’t as gruesome as the past exhibit had been.
David and Quinland finished before me, of course, so they went out to see the barracks and the crematorium – which I have visited in the past – while I went through the exhibits at my own very-slow pace.
After visiting the crematorium, Quinland was ready to go. We’d decided to let her call the shots on how long we stayed; we don’t want her to get overwhelmed. They came back to the museum exhibit hall to find me. David got a photo of this artwork on display which represents the horror of the camp.
We left through this gate with its inscription, “Work Makes You Free.” If only that promise of freedom had been true.