I had briefly entertained the thought of visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau when I got to Poland, but Mum and Dad had already been there, and the trip was going to be an all-day affair when I really wanted to spend as much time with my parents in Poland as possible. So I thought that maybe being in Munich would be a good opportunity to visit Dauchau.
Dachau was opened in March 1933, at the small town of Dachau, and was one of the first camps. It was known as the “School of Terror” and was a training ground for the SS. Over 200,000 people were incarcerated here. It was the terrible images captured on camera and film by US soldiers upon liberation that exposed the full force of brutality to human life to the world, and mark Dachau’s name for eternal history.
This is the camp where human experiments where carried out, Soviet prisoners were mown down in mass executions, Jewish prisoners were transported to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. German dissidents, anti-socials, people who did not ‘fit in’, Sinti and Roma gypsies, outspoken clergymen, Jehovah’s witnesses, homosexuals, Jews and Polish civillians were its unfortunate inmates.
My guide for today is Levi, an American now living in Munich. As he points out, not many people know there is a town here. Just as its inhabitants were unsure of the horrors that were occurring on its doorstep all those years ago.
We are especially lucky today, because on the grounds is 84 year old Leslie Schwartz. He sidles up to Levi as he expounds his historical knowledge on Hitler’s regime and quietly puts in ‘I was here’. Here today to sign his autobiography “Surviving the Hell of Auschwitz and Dachau”, Leslie lost his whole immediate family in the Holocaust. He was just 14 at the time. He has travelled the world to leave a legacy of healing and conflict resolution and in 2013 was awarded Germany’s highest civillian honour – The Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. He tells us his movie will be coming out in the next year and will star Kurt Douglas.
The historic grounds of Dachau, and its remaining buildings, have become a major international memorial site. It’s a place of pilgrimage for many. A place of education for others. A lesson in not forgetting for all.
Certainly a sobering experience, and may we heed the warnings, “Never Again”.