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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 ovens

The 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 foreign 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 "Getting to the camp" below for illustrated step-by-step directions via 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 at the end of this article.


Getting to the camp

The directions below are for public transportation via Munich's clean, quick, and convenient S-Bahn.

If you'd rather fight city and suburban traffic in an automobile, see the Dachau Concentration Memorial Site's directions page and scroll down to "Arriving by car." (There's a parking fee from March to October, and you must pay in cash.)


S-Bahn directions:

S-Bahn train, Munich

1. From Munich's city center, you'll be taking the S-Bahn S2 line in the direction of Petershausen.

Start by purchasing a ticket to Dachau from one of the vending machines, and stamp your ticket in one of the blue machines near the S-Bahn entrance. (This is very important--you can be fined if you enter the platforms or board a train without a ticket.)

You can also get to the camp with a 1- or 3-day City Tour Card for the Gesamtnetz (Munich regional network) as opposed to the Inneraum (city only). See the MVV (Munich public transportation) Web site for more information.


S-Bahn sign

2. Take the escalator or stairway to the train platform. An electronic sign will show the number of minutes until the next S2 Peterhausen train and where to stand on the platform.


S-Bahn train

3. Board the S2 Peterhausen train for a ride of approximately 25 minutes to Dachau. (If necessary, push a button to open the doors as you board or exit the train.) 


Signs at Dachau station

4. At Dachau, leave the railroad station by the main entrance, and ignore the "KZ-Gedenkstätte" pedestrian sign unless you're prepared for a 50-minute walk.


Bus stop at Dachau station

5. Cross the street to the bus stop.


Concentration Camp Memorial Site sign

6. Wait for a bus near the sign that reads, "Concentration Camp Memorial Site."


Dachau bus

7. Take bus 726 to the camp. (Board at the front and show your S-Bahn ticket to the driver.) 


KZ Dachau entrance

8. Exit the bus at the KZ-Gedenkstätte, which is the end of the line.


Entering the camp

Dachau visitor center

As you leave the bus stop, you'll pass a small building where you can buy books, rent an audioguide, sign up for a guided tour, or use the WCs. (More toilets are in the Exhibition building within the camp.)

Liberation of Dachau plaqueIn the not-too-distant future--perhaps by the time you read this article--this prefab building will have been replaced by a modern visitor center and café.

Near the KZ entrance, you'll see a bronze plaque that commemorates the liberation of the camp by the U.S. Army's 20th Armored Division on April 29, 1945.


Jourhaus

The only entrance to the concentration camp is through the Jourhaus, or guardhouse, where you'll see the motto "Arbeit macht frei" on the wrought-iron gate beneath the archway, as shown in the photo at the beginning of this article.


Dachau concentration camp

As you enter the camp through the Jourhaus, you'll notice the former maintenance building (right) that housed the camp's kitchen, clothing department, workshops, and baths.

The roll-call area, where prisoners were counted each morning and evening, was in front of the maintenance building.


KZ Dachau model

Most of the camp's dilapidated buildings were torn down before 1965, when the Concentration Camp Memorial Site was opened, but you can get an overview of what the World War II camp and its neighboring SS facilities looked like in this model from the Exhibition or museum.

The concentration camp is at the top of the photo, where you can see the two rows of barracks blocks to the left of the roll-call area.

The foundations of the old barracks remain, and beyond them are three memorials: the Catholic Mortal Agony of Christ Chapel (built in 1960), the Carmelite Holy Blood Convent (1064), the Jewish Memorial (1967) and the Protestant Church of Reconciliation (1967).

A fourth memorial, the Russian Orthodox Chapel, was built outside the walls, near the crematorium, in 1995.


Exhibition (museum)

The Exhibition, or museum, should be your first stop after you've entered the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site.

Dachau museum poster

The numbered exhibits are distributed throughout the rooms of the former maintenance building, and they tell the camp's history from 1933 until it became a memorial site in 1965.

It's easy to spend several hours browsing the displays, which provide an overview not only of the camp, but also of the economic and political events that brought the Nazis to power.

For example, here are some numbers that I copied from a display about German inflation from 1914 to 1923:



Movie

The Exhibition has an auditorium where you can watch a documentary film, KZ Dachau, that includes newsreel footage of the camp's liberation. The 22-minute movie isn't for the squeamish or for young children, but it's well worth watching.

Official show times are Tuesday through Sunday at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. (German) and 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. (English), with additional showings in French, Italian, German, or English upon request.

Toilets

WCs are in the Exhibition building, next to the movie theatre and near the office/library wing. The building also has two wheelchair-accessible toilets, one near section 4 and the other by the library and offices.


Camp Prison

Dachau Bunker - Camp Prison

The bunker, or camp prison, is on the left in this photo.

The maintenance building (now the Exhibition or museum) is on the right, and the courtyard between the two buildings was used for whippings, pole hangings, and executions during the Nazi era.


Dachau prison cells

You can walk through the interior of the bunker, where labels identify areas of special interest.

In addition to serving as a prison, the bunker was the camp's torture center. Double walls were used to suppress the sound of prisoners' screams.


U.S. Army cell door

The U.S. Army used the bunker as a prison after World War II. The grille in this cell door was an American addition.


BBarracks for camp inmates

Dachau concentration camp barracks

Most prisoners lived in the camp's accommodations barracks or bunkhouses, which were arranged in two rows alongside the camp road.

 (The road, which was planted with populars, was the main recreation area for prisoners during their limited free time.)

The old, crumbling barracks were torn down in 1964, after serving as postwar refugee housing. One building has been reconstructed with interior furnishings from three periods: 1933-1938, 1938-1944, and 1944-1945.


Common room

This 1938 common room shows the tables where the prisoners ate their skimpy meals. You can also see wooden lockers along the back wall.


Dachau bunk beds

AAs the camp became more crowded, rows of individual bunk beds were replaced by group bunks. This reconstruction shows what the prisoners' sleeping quarters looked like in 1944.


Dachau toilets

Sanitation may have been adequate in 1933, when the barracks were built to accommodate 200 prisoners each, but by the end of the war, each building held up to 2,000 inmates.

Many prisoners died of diseases, especially during a 1943 typus epidemic that killed at least 1,000.

Overcrowding persisted for several years after World War II, when Dachau was a U.S. Army prison camp for German POWs.

Later, the barracks were converted into refugee quarters, where several thousand ethnic Germans from the Sudetenland lived until work began on the KZ-Gedenkstätte or memorial site in 1964./p>

Odd sighting: During my visit, I noticed coins in the fountain-like sink at right. (Is it human nature to throw coins into anything that looks like a fountain, even if it's an industrial sink without water in a former concentration camp?)


Crematoria

Crematorium - Baracke X

The Dachau concentration camp has two crematoria: a small building from 1940, which the SS, and a second, larger crematorium (Barrack X, shown above) that was built in 1942-1943.

Both crematory buildings are outside of the camp's perimeter fence. You can reach them through a gate on the left side of the camp near the Protestant Church of Reconciliation.


Crematorium ovens

The crematorium ovens were coal-fired. Although Baracke X had a Zyklon gas chamber, it was never used for mass extermination. Instead, condemned prisoners were executed (usually by hanging) in front of the ovens.


Web links

Dachau guard tower

ABOVE: A guard tower on the camp perimeter.

Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site
The English-language version of the
KZ-Gedenkstätte Web site has visitor information, historical backgrounds, a virtual tour, and more.

City of Dachau: Tourism
There's more to Dachau than the concentration camp, and the city's English-language tourism pages have listings of hotels, restaurants, events, etc. If you'd rather stay in Dachau than in Munich, the Hotel Fischer is a convenient choice: It's directly across the street from the Dachau train station and bus stop.

History

Dachau Concentration Camp
This extensive site is probably the Web's most complete guide to the KZ and its history. It includes many photos, excerpts from original sources, and an especially interesting section on what happened during and immediately after the liberation of Dachau in 1945.

Dachau Concentration Camp (Wikipedia)
This article gives an historical overview, has a list of famous prisoners, and includes academic citations.

Top photo iStockphoto.com/Steven Phraner.
S-Bahn photo iStockphoto.com/Tan Wei Ming.