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Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site

KZ-Gedenkstätte

From: Munich, Germany

Arbeit macht frei photo

ABOVE: The infamous "Work sets you free" slogan on the wrought-iron gates at the Dachau camp entrance.

Dachau guard towerDachau was Nazi Germany's first concentration camp, and during its 12 years as a prison and armaments factory, it housed some 200,000 prisoners.

Today, the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site (which opened in 1965) is visited by at least 800,000 people each year--mostly Germans, and especially German students, who typically visit at least one former concentration camp during the upper grades of high school.

About the camp:

Dachau crematorium ovensThe Dachau KZ, or Konzentrationslager, was a model for later camps, including more than 150 subsidiary camps in the region. It began as a prison for German political enemies of the Reich, but over time it became a processing center and forced-labor camp for Jews, Sinti, Roma, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, prisoners of war from Eastern Europe, and other groups. After 1942, Dachau was also used for SS medical experiments. (It was never a mass-extermination camp, although an estimated 43,000 prisoners died from starvation, illness, or execution before the U.S. Army liberated the camp in 1945.)

The Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site is well worth visiting, although it can inspire discomfort: not merely for Germans ("What did your Grossvater do in the war?"), but also for American tourists who may find themselves thinking of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and "enhanced interrogation techniques" such as waterboarding as they tour the camp and its torture cells.

Visitor information:

The Concentration Camp Memorial Site is in the Munich suburb of Dachau, about 20 minutes from the Hauptbahnhof (Munich's main railroad station) by S-Bahn train. At the Dachau railroad station, you can transfer to a bus for the five-minute ride to the camp. See page 2, How to get there, for illustrated step-by-step directions by public transportation.

Visiting hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and on all public holidays. Admission is free.

The camp offers audioguides and 30-minute or 2-hour walking tours, or you can book an escorted coach tour from Munich. (You can just as easily explore the camp on your own, preferably after spending an hour or two in the Exhibition or museum, which tells the camp's grim history through displays, a movie, and other exhibits). For more visitor information, see the Dachau Web links on page 8 of this article.

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