Dachau (16)

To honour the dead and warn the living

A statue erected to remind us all that history is not contained to geographical borders, nationalities or cultures – instead it is prominent life lessons for humanity that we will choose to make positive and peaceful decisions instead of destructive ones. The statue above is of a common prisoner, with his head held high, hands in pocket and one leg in an at ease motion. During his time in prison, he is not allowed to lift his head up to face a guard, put his hands into his uniforms’ pocket and must always stand in attention. If he is caught doing them, punishment will be acquitted.

The gates with the words ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ (‘Work Sets You Free’) were kept ajar as a sign that this once grim and forbidden fortress is now open. Its secrets uncovered, its victims honoured and its stories now live to tell. Dachau was the very first Nazi concentration camp set up as a hub to capture political prisoners who fought against its regimes. It later enlarged detaining criminals and Jews. People who entered the camp never knew whether they will ever come out – frightfully so, many didn’t make it out. Jews were thrown in by the hundreds and thousands – without reason, without even the right for trial and possible freedom. This was the difference between a concentration camp and a prison – Dachau was hell on earth for many innocent men, especially those of Jewish descent. It was reported that over 200,000 people went through the camp and 43,000 lost their lives to the ruthless torture and extreme work environments.

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Detainees went through a strict system upon entering the camp. The mocking and torture would begin even before they enter the camp grounds. It was required of the public to spit, mock and discriminate the people entering the camp as they walked from the train to the camp gates. Anyone in the public who resisted would be treated the same as those whose fate lie in the hands of the SS guards.

Prisoners were stripped of their dignity, respect and possessions as they entered the first hall leading to the shower room. Their possessions were confiscated from them, even mere entities like photographs of loved ones or identification documents. From that moment on, they were only known by numbers. Guards would lead them to the communal shower room where they were forced to strip down losing their dignity, then their hair shaven before being shoved to the ground where they will frantically grab any piece of uniform from the heap on the floor.

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Punishment was erratic and many times without reason, or instigated by SS guards. Prisoners were hung from a metal bar for hours losing all strength in the limbs, then whipped and mocked at. Other prisoners suffered canning by 2 guards simultaneously on both sides while counting one to twenty-five in German. Non-German speaking prisoners will suffer twice or thrice the punishment simply because they can’t count proficiently in German. Still other prisoners suffered the fate of being a guinea pig to the mad medical doctors who tried all kinds of experiments on prisoners for military developments during WW2. Whatever the punishment was, it baffles me how inhumane people can become, their conscience seared, their souls swallowed up by a seeming beast.

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Walking down the silent expanse of torn down barracks, we entered the crematorium where thousands of lives passed on and delivered to the fire. Pictures show that at one point the camp ran out of coal, thus bodies could not be cremated; instead they were piled on top of each other like meat at the butchers, rotting away. The feeling walking into the crematorium and passing through the gas chambers is too awful for words – there is an immense sense of doom and although the building is quite sizable, I felt extremely trapped with a sudden surge of claustrophobia. No one – no one should ever have to go through this…