Tuesday, July 21, 2009


We took the commuter train out to Dachau today. "Dachau" once referred to a small village outside of Munich and indeed there is still quite a population there.
Shortly after taking power in 1933, the NSDAP (the Nazis) established their first concentration camp in Dachau - initially for political opponents (Social Democrats and Communists) but later to be reorganized and enlarged in 1938 to hold every group deemed "asocial". Eventually, members of the French Resistance and even Soviet POWs were kept here.

It is hard to enumerate all of the things that amazed me about this place - of course the horrors of Naziism that you know you will see - while most did not "surprise" me after years of Holocaust history, they are nonetheless always shocking to see or read again. 2 things did strike me
1. The heat - I've often read about or envisioned concentration camp prisoners enduring Northern European winters with a thin layer of clothing, nothing in their bellies and maybe no shoes. I'd never pondered summertime, but on an otherwise beautful day, the camp had heat lines rising from the ground. That is in spite of the beautful shade tree that have been planted in the past 60 years (aerial photos of 1945 didn't show them). I had never imagined this hardship too for the prisoners.
2. Life in town goes on - while that fact is painfully and awkwardly true of the townsfolk marched at gunpoint to the camp by the US Army in 1945, it is much more matter of fact today. There is a busy road that goes by the outer fence and homes whose second floor looks onto the camp yard. (We noticed this same phenomena in Cambodia - perhaps it is something innately human) The camp received enough coverage in 1930s German press (heavily misrepresented as "corrective") that it's name had a sort of boogyman connotation to regular Germans. Today the residents pack onto the same bus as the tourists streaming to the camp - 2 different lines head to that part of town and go beyond the camp's stop. Dachau the town seems to exist in symmetry with it's history without forgetting it.

Note - In a move that was not intentional but would surely make the Nazis cringe, we had a Turkish durum snack at a stand near the train station. There were only Germans eating there and the meat used was pork - very German, not very Turkish (Muslims not eating pork and all). Even without the warm and fuzzy "all getting along" sentiment, it was delicious.

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