Eye-opening path to world of horrors
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Berlin - It was my father’s wish that I should one day visit a Nazi concentration camp. A voracious reader of the events that unfolded during World War 2 and especially the horror of the concentration camps, it was his belief that what happened in Germany should be made known to every human being on Earth.
He believed, too, that by knowing history we stood a chance of not repeating it.
The camp I chose was Dachau in a quaint town in Germany. As I stood at its gates, I imagined the thousands of Jews and others who arrived there in matchbox trucks, fearful yes, but not yet knowing their dreadful fate.
While making my way to the camp, I had to take the Path of Remembrance, a haunting 45-minute walk.
Reading the information panels on the path, I learned that many prisoners died on this walk to the camp.
Before entering the gates of the camp, we passed the track where inmates loaded ammunition and army uniforms into carriages.
Next to the railway line, I stood on the spot where thousands of political prisoners, women and children, had stood before entering the camp.
Nothing was more ironic than the inscription over the gates: “arbeit macht fret” (work makes you free).
The first thing I noticed when entering the camp was the guard tower. From this tower SS guards kept a watchful eye on prisoners during roll call.
The guards would randomly shoot prisoners during roll call, specifically those who had forgotten to wear identification badges.
The roll call area is now the site of a bronze monument, erected in 1997, depicting skeletons and barbed wire.
At the base of the monument a small set of stairs lead down to a small door. There seem to be no windows in this basement building, which turned out to be one of the many gas chambers on the camp site.
In the SS administration building prisoners were stripped of their clothing and valuables in special shunt rooms.
This building has now become the official camp museum, where you can watch films of Hitler’s many speeches to the Germans. It was eerie hearing his voice echo around the room.
I came across a book that listed the names and nationalities of prisoners, which barracks they occupied and their official identification numbers.
I could not believe I was looking at a book that had actually been filled in by SS officials.
Prisoners were routinely tortured. Some were strapped to tables where they were whipped and made to count each stroke aloud.
We visited barracks where prisoners lived and slept, which were now being reconstructed. You can see a replica of the wooden bunk beds rising almost to the ceiling.
It was if they were already sleeping in coffins.
I imagined how the prisoners slept in this room, keeping each other company by singing freedom songs, and trying to remain optimistic. Although there were windows in the rooms, all were sealed.
The crematoriums and gas chambers still stand behind the barracks and guard towers, although they are concealed from the rest of the camp.
Listening to the audio guide, I learned how prisoners were led to believe they were taken for a shower when they were taken into the gas chambers.
In the time that the camp was run, it had 200 000 registered prisoners and 31 591. In reality, 50 000 prisoners died at Dachau.
Passing the big black iron gates, a question kept swirling in my mind: was the rest of the world in a deep sleep while this was happening?