Seeing History Up Close at Dachau Concentration Camp

Humbled at Dachau Concentration Camp

The sun was out, the skies were clear and the air was light and crisp. My backpacking partner, Alicia, and I hopped on the train to Dachau Concentration Camp. It had been Alicia’s idea to make a day trip to Dachau, and as a history lover, I agreed. But I didn’t know what to expect. My mind wandered to the books I’d read and the pictures I’d seen. During my vacation to Germany, was this what I wanted to see?

We enjoyed a scenic train ride through the German countryside–rolling hills and quaint towns tucked into the hills. Not exactly the road to destruction, I thought. The train pulled up and the tour group gathered together. Our guide led us into one of the long feeding halls that had been turned into a museum.

Seeing History Up Close at Dachau Concentration Camp

Humbled at Dachau Concentration Camp
Grave memorial at Dachau; photo by Kala Linck

I looked around and noticed tiny left-behind shoes and lost buttons. Stories of people who had resided at the concentration camp were draped on banners. And then there was the less emotional information on plaques, offering facts of information: how many people had been deported to Dachau, how long the camp was open, who ran it, and so on and so on. Reading the numbers of people who had been in this very place made me feel like air was pushing in around me. And then we walked outside.

We passed the remains of bunkers, as our guide told us how many people had slept in each one—people on top of people, suffering from disease, hunger, and loss.

The air smothered me even though it wasn’t hot. We looked out onto what had once been a prison yard, and saw barren gravel for acres and acres, with the reminiscent shadows of what used to be. We passed the remains of bunkers, as our guide told us how many people had slept in each one—people on top of people, suffering from disease, hunger, and loss. It was stifling. I looked around at the other group members who had started to wander in different directions. Some seemed unaffected, while others looked like they too were suffocating.

The grounds outside of the yard looked as though they could’ve been on any German country estate. Lush greenery and tall trees stood overhead. It was a beautiful area, peaceful almost. Then we walked through a door, and found ourselves in another building on the edge of the compound. As we walked quickly through the building, we were bottlenecked by a group of people looking up and whispering. We stood in a room that could hold about 15 people, enclosed by dark concrete block walls greened with age. The floor too, was concrete and slanted in to the middle of the room to a drain.

Seeing History Up Close at Dachau Concentration Camp

Seeing History Up Close at Dachau Concentration Camp
Dachau; photo by Kala Linck

Seeing History Up Close at Dachau Concentration Camp

Alicia and examined the cold walls of our surroundings as the guide explained, “You are standing in the gas chambers.” Vomit rose to the back of my throat. Tears stung my eyes. I could never have imagined a more sad and scary place to be, and yet, I didn’t hurry through as I had been trying to. Millions of images flashed through my mind as I stood there stunned. I needed to pay my respects to all those who had entered this room before me and never left.  I closed my eyes said that I was sorry. I wished so badly that things could’ve been different for them.

It’s impossible to understand the significance of these events by just reading words on a page, and it’s something that is etched into my mind forever.

Shortly after, we boarded the train back to Munich. I have always loved learning about World War II in history class, but I learned more in one day trip than I ever learned through years of grazing through history books.

It’s impossible to understand the significance of these events by just reading words on a page, and it’s something that is etched into my mind forever. Being at Dachau, and knowing that this was only the first of many concentration camps that held innocent people against their will was overpowering. But seeing the place where innocent people suffered, were tortured and killed, made me feel helpless and insignificant.

Seeing History Up Close at Dachau Concentration Camp top image by Ondavlb 

 

About Kala Linck

Kala LinckKala is the founder of SWFtraveler.com, a hilarious and helpful guide to traveling the world as a single white female. She's your normal twenty-something, working her way through a career in digital media, while spending all of her vacation days exploring places she's never been before. Kala loves meeting new people, trying new food and sand beneath her feet. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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