While some of my destinations are chosen for their architectural perfection and others for their impressive natural landscape, some are selected for their world historic impact on civilization. Jerusalem was one location that truly uplifted my religious beliefs by being physically present where Jesus had his last supper, but the feeling I felt visiting Dachau in December 2014 with my friend Elan was truly horrifying. Touring the grounds of the first German concentration camp left me in state of disbelief on how humans can be so cruel.
The Dachau Concentration Camp was the very first Nazi camp that opened in 1933 to hold all political prisoners, Jews, homosexuals and all others that opposed the Nazi regime. The US troops liberated the camp in 1945 but what I have seen from my visit will forever remain engraved in my mind and in my heart. How can human beings commit such atrocities?
The day’s cold and humid temperature couldn’t have enhanced the eerie feeling of the past any better. Even with over skies, the low howling wind kept a constant air movement that irritated the bones. We pass the main gates and find ourselves in the center of a large open space envisioning the every day fear and challenges they had to face. The majority of the barracks were removed, but the several still standing showed their confined sleeping quarters.
The full perimeter of the camp was built with a large trench to avoid any possible prison escapes. It was also emphasized that should any inmate get within a distance of this trench, they will be fired at from guards positioned at their elevated posts. The despicable prison conditions resulted in many to voluntarily approach the perimeter to end their lives by being shot at. It was common occurrence that the camp guards would pick up dead prisoners from the trenches.
Besides prisoners being used as forced labour, German physicians performed medical experiments on them. From testing new medications, to hypothermia experiments. From high altitude test using a decompression chamber to tuberculosis. Hundreds of these prisoners died or were permanently crippled as a result of these experiments. As the tour went on, my hope for world peace dwindled. Can it get any worse?
We enter a chamber that had nozzles protruding from the ceiling and contrary to what the prisoners were let to believe, it wasn’t water spraying out for hygiene cleansing, but rather prussic acid gas to end their lives. Shortly after the gas entered their systems, the corpses were piled in wheelbarrels and dumbed in the crematory. The ones that may have still shown some signs of life, were either hung or simply burnt alive. There were reports that the prisoners caught on and like clockwork, they knew the smell of burnt skin and dark smoke from the chimmeys signified yet another group of prisoners have been killed. How can humans commit such atrocities?
One of the last rooms visited was the Shunt room. This was the area in which the admitting of the prisoners took place and while the above, described physical torture, this room attacked the prisoner’s mental state. The prisoners had to hand over all their personal belongings, jewlery and clothes. They stood there fully naked and gave up their personal rights, liberty and human autonomy. Can you imagine….you have now giving up your individuality. You are now owned by the Nazi regime.
The prisoners were liberated by the Americans in 1945 and was estimated that close to 200 000 prisoners were incarcerated.
How can humans commit such atrocites?