A lesson learned in Dachau or a look in to the future?

My intention was to post about the second part of my Italy (Feb 2015) trip but I’ve felt rather reflective given recent news so you’ll have to wait a little longer. Instead we’re fast forwarding six months to August 2015 and my trip to Munich!

I decided whilst staying in Munich I’d have a daytrip somewhere and was pretty set on visiting the famous Neuschwanstein Schloss. As it was, at the last minute I changed my mind and did a tour to the nearby Dachau concentration camp.

Dachau’s a little outside of Munich so I decided it’d be better to go as part of a tour but in hindsight I think I’d recommend going solo or as part of your own group. Part of that was my own personal preference, I’d prefer to look around at my own pace and dedicate the right amount of time for my own interests.
I don’t think the tour guide was the greatest either though.

We didn’t get off to the best of starts before the tour. We arrived at Dachau’s main train station and had to get a bus to the site which was no big deal. However there were already a few people waiting at the bus stop and our tour guide took it upon herself to advise THEM that they could catch the next bus!
The Brits hold a reputation for “loving a queue” and I lived up to that stereotype because it did irk me – “they were here first!” I thought to myself.

I was embarrassed by the whole situation because, through association, we came across as really obnoxious tourists that didn’t care of the inconvenience it might cause to the locals. It was a decent group size so I can see the logic behind wanting to get everyone on the same bus but it was just a blunt statement, you figure she could have at least asked if it would be okay and those already waiting probably wouldn’t have had any issue with it.

To add to the obnoxiousness of it all our tour guide had blurted it out in English, I don’t think she was a native German so maybe she couldn’t explain it in German but it just annoyed me further. I figure if you’re going to have the cheek to do something like that at least do so in the local language.

Anyway, I think / hope everyone that wanted to get on the bus did get on. If by chance you’re reading this and still bitter about being late in August 2015 because you missed your bus I’m sorry! The queue-jumping is still haunting me three years later!

After a short bus ride we arrived at the Dachau site and were ready to start the tour properly. It wasn’t a tour I was expecting to enjoy, I wanted to visit but I was expecting an emotional experience. It really is somewhere you should make an effort to visit – not necessarily Dachau because there are others that might suit your location better, Auschwitz perhaps the most well-known of the concentration camps that you can visit.

A lot of the site is a huge open space, much like the photos I’d seen of Auschwitz. It feels very solemn and the enormity of where you are hits you instantly. One of the first things you’ll stumble upon is the gate reading “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work will set you free) which sets the tone for what you’re walking in to.

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Dachau

Our tour started inside in what I suppose is comparable to a museum. They have various educational pieces and collections that educate you and help you envisage what it must have been like within the camp.
The tour guide was explaining various exhibits but I think a few, including myself, couldn’t really keep focused on what our guide was actually saying. Some parts she completely skipped over and others she droned on for too long and in the end I just found myself drowning it out and reading as much as I could as we went along.

I think it’s perhaps just my way of taking in information so I’m not going to name the tour company and be overly critical, it could be a tour you enjoy yourselves but personally I’d reiterate my recommendation to just go solo and take it all in at your own pace. It’s not a day you want to rush.

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May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933 – 1945 because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defence of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow men. 

Some of the pieces made a bigger impact than others – a lot of the information you read does offer a decent insight in to what it was like and can be emotional. The part that hit me hardest though was seeing the videos of American troops arriving at Dachau for the very first time and making that discovery of the wellbeing of those that were being held captive. The footage was harrowing and seeing the faces of those who’d barely clung on alongside piles of bodies who hadn’t been so fortunate was a difficult watch.

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Get comfy!

Moving out of the exhibition gave us a chance to explore some of the other buildings. This included a long narrow building with cells where people were presumably kept, a building which showcased how squashed in and uncomfortable the living conditions were and lastly the fateful building with its chimney.
The chimney particularly important as it allowed the smoke to rise over the concentration camp and served as a reminder as to what the future had in store for you.

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We reached the end of the tour and my thoughts throughout had been the same – how did this happen? It’s hard to envisage, hard to believe and yet it happened. This is history – relatively recent history at that with Holocaust survivors still living today.

It’s an emotional daytrip but an important one to take and the message you hope to take away with you is “never again”. It’s a simple message but effective and I walked away content that it’d be impossible to replicate, it could never happen again.

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Dachau prisoner numbers by country

Three years have passed since Dachau and I often find myself pondering if it could. Are we too arrogant to assume it could never happen again or that we’d do better?

If we think about the treatment of Jews in this period of history, we know who the “villains” are. We learn that story and Germany more than anyone hold their hands up and don’t shy away from retelling that awful history. I wrote about Budapest a while ago on the blog and it fascinated me learning how complicit Hungary were themselves – it’s not something I remember learning about in school but Hungarians feel their own shame about their role in history but similarly it’s something you learn more when you visit the country. Germany and Hungary both drum it in to you so that you never forget what happened.

So we’ve got our “bad guys” but what of the good guys? At what point did the “heroes” become just that? At what point were Germany, for instance, an ally that we didn’t wish to upset? It makes me wonder. Hitler didn’t wake up one morning and change history overnight – how many warning signs went unnoticed before action was deemed necessary? At what point was it TOO far? Before he came in to power, before the holocaust or millions of deaths later?

It leaves me curious. If an ally was to, I don’t know.. propose a Muslim ban or keep young children captive in crossing the border would we (the UK) step in? Is it even plausible someone like that could rise to power? Surely we’ve learnt from history and past mistakes?

“Of course we have, what silly questions Jason!!”

“Never again” I told myself three years ago as I left Dachau but a lot can change in three years. Political circumstances and agendas change and it’s led to my viewpoint changing too. I left Dachau emotional, it’s not an easy day but I left assured that history would never repeat itself. Can I say the same today?

World War 2 ended 75 years ago, we were the heroes of that time and yet I can’t help but be curious as to what people will be saying about us in 75 years time – never again?

What do you think?

Jason

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