First Time Visiting a Concentration Camp (August 2017)

Dachau was the model for other camps. It was first. The quote on the front gate of the camp reads “Arbeit macht frei.” Working was supposed to “rehabilitate criminals and other wrong-doers.”

Dachau

September 1, 2017: I saw a concentration camp for the first time this week. I was in Munich before I traveled to Erlangen. I went on a tour to Dachau. Even though I was physically at the place, it was still hard for me to picture the terror that occurred there. Because something so terrible, yet so controlled is simply unthinkable. The tour guide really knew a lot about the history of the concentration camp and I learned a lot of details that I previously did not know. For example, that Dachau was used as a safe place for refugees in the 1950s.

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Memorial artwork to commemorate the lost lives during the years 1933-1945

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On the grounds of Dachau near the maintenance building and entrance
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a multifunctional unit that was used for registering new inmates; the quote on the roof of the building is translated as: “There is a path to freedom. Its milestones are Obedience, Honesty, Cleanliness, Sobriety, Hard Work, Discipline, Sacrifice, Truthfulness, Love of thy Fatherland.”

 

Dachau was the model for other camps. It was first. The quote on the front gate of the camp reads “Arbeit macht frei.” Working was supposed to “rehabilitate criminals and other wrong-doers.” There were some German speaking victims who lived in the camp, but many came from different countries and could not speak German. The largest group of prisoners came from Poland, followed by Germany and then citizens of the former Soviet Union. Therefore, some of them could not even understand these quotes, which were supposed to guide their every-day thinking. As soon as they arrived at Dachau, prisoners were stripped of their individuality and basic human dignity. It did not matter if they had a uniform that fit or shoes that matched. Their entire body was shaved. They were placed into a category according to “the crime that they committed.”  (See below.)

marking system

Arbeit macht frei
front gates
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liberation by the Americans

 

Apart from having to work 12-hour shifts after only eating a thin soup, the victims were subjected to various types of torture by the guards. The fear and discipline there was so intense that guards barely had to supervise when prisoners admitted new prisoners or had a role as a leader among fellow prisoners. Many prisoners died from starvation and diseases since hygiene was so poor and quarters were so close. Although the Nazis tried to keep it hidden, many prisoners committed suicide by jumping onto the electric fence surrounding the grounds.

The first crematorium was too small to keep up will all the deaths and a second had to be built. (The second featured disinfection “showers” in one part of the building.) Apart from the physical abuse from guards (some really awful forms of torture were used) and lack of nutrition and individuality, prisoners also lived in extremely crowded conditions. Where 200 men should be living according to the size of the housing, 2,000 men were living there. The beds were not divided but rather a huge wooden bunk bed.

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The barracks
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Each of the 32 former barracks are no longer standing, but they are indicated by the foundations you see here.
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The perimeter fence
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“Remember how we died here”

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gas chamber disguised as a shower room “Brausebad” ; reported to have never been used
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the first crematorium

 

The true situation of the camp was not portrayed in newspapers as such. Work camps were supposed to be something good for the country. The Nazis didn’t build murder camps in their back yard in order to hide what was happening in a neighboring country like Poland. There were numerous concentration camps in Germany and a few death camps as well, but Dachau is not considered to be one of them. It is still estimated that there were 200,000 prisoners at Dachau and deaths as high as 30,000.

If someone tried to escape the camp, they would have most likely failed due to the ditches and large electric fences around the grounds. There was also an SS academy (SS: “Schutzstaffel”- a Nazi security group) nearby as a final threat. Prisoners also saw the academy when they were walking by foot to the camp during arrival–a threatening introduction to Dachau. Sick were kept separately until they got better (if they got better). Even some experiments were held there such as tests with air pressure to see what humans could withstand as well as hypothermia experiments. Hundreds of prisoners suffered, died or were executed in the medical experiments.

Political prisoners, who had attempted to murder Hitler or who had committed similar crimes, had larger quarters in special facilities. For example, Georg Else, a Swabian carpenter who attempted to kill Hitler on a lone mission, lived under relatively favored conditions until he was shot dead in front of a wall in Dachau. Else had installed a time-bomb in the Munich Beer Hall, where Hitler commemorated the anniversary of the failed Nazi 1923 putsch. Due to foggy weather, Hitler changed his travel plans to an earlier train ride and the bomb went off after Hitler was already gone. Such political prisoners were killed before the camp was liberated by Americans under Hitler’s orders. If seeing all these horrible facilities as an informational museum wasn’t heart-breaking enough, they also played a film that told the story of the Holocaust and of Dachau with original footage.

There are also numerous artistic and religious memorials throughout the grounds that commemorate the victims and urge us to never forget. WWII and the Holocaust are discussed to great extent in American schools. What isn’t discussed enough is the 150 years leading up to the Nazi siege of power, which teaches us how such horror developed due to political instability and poor living and working conditions. The horrible crimes that were committed were not based on a single decision, but were part of a long process of terror, propaganda and total control by the Nazi government. We might be aware of fascist aesthetics and hate among others, but would we be willing to stand up to it? Would we be passive and live off the struggle of others? Or would we too become a victimizer when our governmental authority tells us that it is okay? (A video series about social psychology– to help us understand how such horrible things could happen anywhere)

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“Never Again”
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The colors and symbols represent the marking system used to label inmates. However, on this memorial piece there is no pink represented (for homosexuals)
Memorial Artwork
“May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933-1945 because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defense of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow men”

 

The following photos are of the various religious memorials at Dachau.

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Jewish memorial

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more than 6 million Jews fell victim to Nazi tyranny
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The Mortal Agony of Church Chapel
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Protestant Church for Reconciliation
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Russian Orthodox Chapel

 

That’s it for this entry! I shared what I learned about the camp during the tour. I introduced the camp and some of what happened during the Third Reich. The Third Reich is a very extensive topic in German History. Too much has been destroyed and lost to even paint a full picture of every atrocity that happened at Dachau. But, we know enough to hopefully never allow something like the Holocaust to happen again. And I hope that you are feeling grateful rather than depressed after reading this. I strongly recommend Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. The book is a response to the question: “How was everyday life in a concentration camp reflected in the mind of the average prisoner?” Frankl was a psychologist and Auschwitz concentration camp inmate.  It is a book that very well may change your perspective about the purpose of life.

Currently, German students take day trips to such camps to learn about the Holocaust. Learning about history is just as important as being aware of what is happening in the moment all around the globe. Remember, not all Germans were Nazis and not all Nazis were German. We should never forget, be informed of today’s news and self-reflect. Thanks for reading about my experience at Dachau!

 

Sincerely,

Stephanie F.

Bamberg Ausflug (2. Oktober 2017)

Bamberg is described as one of several of the most beautiful cities to see in Germany. Its close location to Nuremberg makes it a great day trip for those who like visiting historical cities. A large part of the city is a UNESCO heritage site.

My first impression of Bamberg when walking from the train station into the old city center was thinking how beautiful the bridges and view of the water were. (Bamberg is situated on the Regnitz river.) It felt like a German city but somehow different than Erlangen. I saw families, students, tourists and everyday people.

Even before I reached the part of the city with the historic sites that tourists usually come to see (more about that soon), I saw many interesting buildings and sculptures. Since my student travel pass allows me to travel for free with buses and trains and Bamberg is included in the travel network, I plan to go back and explore the market area, many shops and unique architecture that there is to see when friends or family come to visit me in Erlangen.

What is Bamberg’s place in German history? The town dates back to 902. The Roman King Henry II made the town into a separate diocese in 1007. The University of Bamberg was established 1647. Bamberg became linked to the rail system in 1844. It is one of few German cities that was not bombed in World War II.

How I planned my sight-seeing activities and the main things people visit in Bamberg: Before I travelled to Bamberg I searched a few websites to find the most praised tourist sights to see and I marked them on Google maps. For one, it allowed me to estimate how much time I would need to see everything since I could see how close everything was located. Two, I had a visual idea of how the city was organized before travelling there. Three, once I was there the places were already marked on my map and I could easily start a route planer to get me there.

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Some of the main sights are:
Bamberg Cathedral (1237), with the tombs of Emperor Henry II and Pope Clement II



Alte Hofhaltung, residence of the bishops in the 16th and 17th centuries (a choir group was singing while I was there)

Neue Residenz, residence of the bishops after the 17th century. Here you want to see the garden!



-Bamberg State Library in the New Residence
Old town hall (1386), built in the middle of the Regnitz river, accessible by two bridges *pictures see below under UNESCO site*
-Klein-Venedig (“Little Venice”), a colony of fishermen’s houses from the 19th century along one bank of the river Regnitz
-Michaelsberg Abbey, built in the 12th century on one of Bamberg’s “Seven Hills”
-Altenburg, castle, former residence of the bishops

My favorite thing that I saw in Bamberg was the foot path up to the castle. Unfortunately, the castle was closed on that day (Monday) so I did not get to see it up close and personal. But the view of the city from the foot path and the peaceful, quiet nature around me was so wunderschön. I wasn’t aware of the foot path before I arrived in Bamberg–I just followed street signs from the main area where the Cathedral and other main attractions were and made my way up the hill. It was a pretty active climb up there too.



I recommend taking the walk by foot to look at the view down on the city, but if you want to tour the castle, I recommend checking on the hours and taking a bus tour up there. My GPS led me to some trails in the wood instead of to footpath I needed to get to the castle entrance (maybe the footpaths were correct but they were blocked since the castle was closed that day, or maybe I just didn’t find the right direction). I did see a road which would have taken me up to the castle, but it was for cars only.


Therefore, the walking trail is extraordinarily beautiful–grassy hills and such an amazing view. But finding the way to the castle from there proved a little tricky by foot.

What are some things that makes Bamberg special?

  1. There are seven hills in Bamberg, each with its own church. That is why some call Bamberg “Franconian Rome.” Although my Google research recommended me to take my time walking through Bamberg’s many romantic hills, I did not realize that each of the seven hills had a church until afterwards

 

2. UNESCO Site which wasn’t destroyed in the war- including the town hall that sits above the river





3. Rauchbier- I did try this beer, but I didn’t like it. I like grilled food but not really that savory, smoky taste so it’s not really a surprise that I wouldn’t care for that flavor in my beer.

My concluding impressions of the city: If you have already travelled to several cities in Bavaria or just have a lot of free time, Bamberg is worth the visit. However, it is not the most memorable city Germany has to offer (meiner Meinung nach). And unfortunately, many of the historical buildings were under construction while I was there. The city definitely has its charm and feels pretty small and cozy settled into its hills. It is a pretty popular tourist destination and, on a Monday, it was crowded. For some reason, many businesses are closed on Monday such as the Altenburg (castle) and some restaurants. I enjoyed my time in Bamberg and waking up, taking the train and just discovering a new place on my own. Luckily, I did not get rained out but the weather was still a little gray and I was not absolutely in love with the city itself.

That’s it for today! If you want to read more about travelling in Germany, I recommend the following blog. The author also wrote a very informative post about Bamberg: Travelling in Germany- Bamberg

Have a nice holiday season,

Stephanie