Friday, September 25, 2015


Yesterday (Thursday) we toured the Dachau concentration camp memorial. Dachau is one of the few camps most everybody has heard of, however it wasn't an "extermination" camp that existed simply to kill people. It was a prison camp providing workers for various factories and construction all over the area. There were many sub-camps that were all part of the Dachau system. It was also the FIRST of the concentration camps and served as a model for the other camps. It opened in 1933, and back then the prisoners were actually Germans that Hitler had decided needed to be gotten rid of (his opposition to power). There had been a "terrorist" act in the German Parliament building (it burned down, no-one ever found out who did it) and due to this terrible act of crime, as Chancellor he was given the unconditional powers to arrest and hold anyone without any need of proof and no requirement for giving them a trial. His SS could knock down your door at any time of the day or night and take you away, where you'd likely never be seen again. In the early years Dachau was chock-full of political prisoners as Hitler got rid of any and all as he consolidated and increased his power.

Later as the war loomed/progressed and his conquest of Poland and other neighboring countries started to provide LOTS of new prisoners the camp grew and became the Dachau of these pictures, containing pretty much anybody who was a threat to his Nazi regime: Jews, Gypsies, intellectuals/scholars/professors, Jehovah Witnesses, priests, gays, and many more 'groups' of people he deemed a threat. Torture and beatings were daily occurrences, yet somehow the people who survived this evil place (and all the other camps) were able to physically and mentally rise above all that. I can't imagine how ANYBODY could have survived here. Food was a minimum, clothes were the bare essentials, and if you became sick and weren't able to work AND attend the twice-daily roll calls you were sent to the infirmary (which was likely a death-sentence as there was very little to no medical care for the prisoners, and your already unbelievably meager food rations were halved as you weren't working).

Our tour guide Eric outside the camp giving us the area layout. This black and white photo was taken days before the camps liberation in 1945. If you look around the top center and arcing around to the right you can see bomb craters. The Allies knew there was a camp of some sort here, but until they got here they really didn't know it's scope and purpose. Many prisoners throughout Germany were killed during allied bombings as they were slave labor at the factories keeping the German war-machine going.

 This is a blown-up portion of the above photo. The area inside A and B are the parts we toured. Inside area A is the 40 acres of the Dachau concentration camp...the 2 long rows of buildings were the infirmary and barracks buildings. Area B is the crematorium.  Above area A was an SS training camp where guards were trained for camps all over German occupied territory.

And speaking of camps and occupied territory, these next 2 shots show all the camps. Highlighted in black is the primary camp, and all the others are subsidiary camps. Dachau is just to the right of the lower center.

Most of the "extermination" camps were far to the east (such as Auschwitz).

This shot is blown up from the above picture, and you can clearly see the staggering number of camps associated with Dachau. Almost all of these were associated with factories and construction. Prisoners were moved in and out of the primary camp all the time to staff all the jobs that needed doing.

As a newly arriving prisoner, this is the view you'd see after getting off your train: 
the main entrance to Dachau.

Passing thru this iron gate takes you inside the camp to what would have been hell on earth.
The words Arbeit Macht Frei translates to "work makes you free" which was what they wanted you to believe. But it really meant work makes you dead, as does everything else here.

Walking along the edge of what was the upper row of barracks (as seen in the picture above), you can see the fence separating the prison camp from the SS training camp on the left. All of the original barracks buildings were torn down due to the sad state they were in back in the 60's. Only a few were re-constructed. You can still see all the original foundations for the barracks buildings.

Looking back the way we walked along the fence-line from the main entrance. You can clearly see the guard tower where guards sat trained to kill (and rewarded for doing so) with their machine guns. If you gathered in a group greater than 3 you could be shot without warning. If you stepped onto the grass you were obviously attempting to escape and would be killed. If they wanted to execute you they had to submit paper-work, but nobody ever questioned if a prisoner was killed trying to escape. Closer to the tower there is no ditch, but further away the dry ditch was maintained to slow you down giving the guards greater opportunity to kill you. If one of the guards didn't like you, he would take your cap and toss it onto the grass or in the ditch. You then had the choice to live without it (and freeze) or pray the guard isn't looking for a few moments as you hoped to retrieve it. Human life here had no meaning.

Here you can clearly see the dry ditch (it's about 4' deep).  Above the dry ditch in the gravel (hard to see) there are rows and coils of barbed wire on the ground extending about 8 feet or so away from the fence towards the ditch that you'd have to get thru before you ever got to the fence. Then the fence itself was electrified with 10,000 volts. Over the fence is a small river, and beyond that is the SS camp. There was no hope in this direction.

This black and white photo on the left shows the infirmary buildings, and also the human experimentation buildings. The Nazi's experimented on the prisoners here in many horrible ways. If you blow up the picture you can read the paragraph detailing what the areas were.

 Here is a reconstruction of a barracks room meant to hold 72 prisoners (that's how many 'bunks' there were). Typically there'd be over 200 men living in a room like this. The prisoners were required to maintain their barracks in a military "spotless" cleanliness. If there was a spot on the floor, somebody will get beat for it (25 lashes...remember this as I'll discuss it later). The next room had a small row of lockers which contained all your possessions (a bowl, cup, spoon, possibly an extra uniform or jacket and that's about it). During morning and evening roll call the SS would go thru the barracks inspecting it. If your coffee cup had a spot on it, you'd be beaten. Your bed (straw filled  mattress) and blanket had to be rolled/ folded and perfect. If anything was amiss you'd be beaten (25 lashes). You could be beaten for not standing just-right at roll call (feet together, hands at your side, head down NOT looking at the SS guards). You could be beaten for ANYTHING whatsoever. And keep in mind these people were not in prime physical condition. They were withered starving brutalized yet somehow still alive corpses, and somehow beyond my ability to fathom, they still had hope.

This is a picture of one of the barracks rooms after liberation (if you blow up the picture you can see an Allied soldiers helmet as he walks thru the barracks). The barracks were all horrifically overcrowded and if work details, starvation, beatings and cold didn't kill you, disease likely would.

I didn't include a few shots that I took, specifically the crematoriums and  oven, as it's just too grim to look at. Originally there were only 2 ovens at Dachu, but as the war progressed they weren't nearly enough to keep up with the dead so an entire new building was created that had 6 large ovens that could each hold 3 bodies at a time. Nor did I take pictures of the "extermination chamber" (gas room) where it is thought they didn't actually use here at Dachu (but no one can say with a certainty that they didn't).

Another thing Eric the tour guide brought up (that none of us thought to ask) was "where were all the women"? Dachu was strictly for men. Most of the Concentration camps were for men, and the vast majority of women (pretty much all those with children, and also the elderly) were sent straight to the extermination camps as they 'weren't needed'.

This photo (which is really quite disturbing) I chose to show you because of it's importance. It was designed and built by a survivor, and it represents the electrified fence around the camp, and what happens to humans when they come into contact with 10,000 volts (if you made it that far and weren't shot). Apparently it was a daily occurrence for people to commit suicide by running to the fence to end their suffering.

I also didn't take any pictures of where prisoners were tortured. There was a kind of table where they'd make you bend over on top of, where they'd beat you with "25 strikes" from a vicious cane made from bull-hide. Later on the Nazi's decided to have two SS men beat you with their canes at the same time, so the 50 hits were still considered only 25. When you arrived here, to have any chance at survival you'd first have to speak German. As they beat you for ANY infraction you would have to count out loud (in German) the number of the hits. If you messed up or didn't know the numbers in German they'd keep going and likely beat you to death right there. There was also some wooden beams up high that they would bind your hands behind your back and then hoist you up into the air by them, which would ultimately result in both your shoulders becoming dislocated as your body weight forces your arms around behind you and finally above your head. After they'd finally let you down (if you can imagine the sheer pain of that torture) you'd be sent on your way, but if you couldn't attend roll call and work the next day you'd be beaten or sent to the infirmary. 

I leave you from this very sad place with a picture of the "remains" of the unknown prisoner (much like our "Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery). There is a law in Germany that any location that has been a cemetery (officially holding human remains) shall remain so in perpetuity. The remains of one of the untold thousands of prisoners who perished here are in this rectangular container, and by that means this place shall always be untouchable ground. Behind that on the wall written in the 5 most common languages of the prisoners held here is the inscription which is the purpose of maintaining this memorial camp (so that future generations won't forget what happened here). There's nothing more I can add to this picture.


  1.'s Sunday, and we begin our LAST day here in Munich. It's gone by FAST! (Jeannie and I were both sick for 2 days with a bug we both came down with Wednesday night). It's been a real fun trip....can't wait to come BACK and do Oktoberfest again in a few years!

    And Rae...hope all is well in is the mens road race...who will win? I'd love to see Sagan punch it out, but I am guessing it will be one of the many contenders who you'd never really think as the world champion. We shall know soon enough. IF we weren't here in Germany, I'd likely have been there all week.

  2. WAY TO GO PETER (Sagan)!!!!!! I'd have loved to see that win in person...but it's been quite fun here too. Leaving for the Munich airport in less than an Last day is always depressing. About an hour by train and then we see how fun the airport will be...hopefully not too stressful.

    Next stop: Boston (again)...but only for the night. Fly back home on Tuesday...and that will be that.

    Later gaters!

  3. About the Holocaust -- would you believe that I heard one of my younger co-workers say that it was time for Jews to "get over it" !!! because it was "so long ago" . I had to point out that it was MY FATHER's generation and people that- I grew up with! But, this girl is one of the casually and really rather unconsciously anti-Semites that exist around here and the same sort of person that allowed the Nazi ideology to take root and spread. I fear that "never again" is nothing but a platitude -- witness Serbia.

    I haven't posted b/c was just too busy this past week, but I did have a good time in Richmond. I love going to races (although, you can't really see much of the race). They did have jumbotrons at several spots where you could watch the TV feed as the finish line announcers gave updates. For the race yesterday, I walked around quite a lot to see the race as it went by at several different spots -- and tried to locate the feed zones as I really wanted to get a musette or two (ended up with a Kazakh team bottle) but by doing that I gave up my excellent spot about 10 yards in front of the finish line and ended up unable to see the finish - but did get a shot of Peter as he walked/rolled past after the win. Hurray for him! He looked rather dazed and SO happy! The crowd was cheering him like crazy -- I think that was part of what dazed him. I like to have a world champion who supports that title with results the rest of the year so I am glad that he won!

    Taylor Phinney gave it a good shot, but (although I am no expert) it did always seem to me doomed to fail in this strong field. I suppose that he felt it was his only chance though, to go in a break so many laps before the finish and hope that somehow it would stick. It truly was a miracle for him to recover and be able to even be a part of the world's team, then to put on a strong effort like that. I expect great results from him in the future!

    I stayed two nights in the same hotel with the Dutch team, very friendly all of them! But never had anything to get autographed when I had the chances.

    I do believe that the entire nation of Eritrea was there to cheer on their lone rider! They were everywhere along the course, had a corner where they set up a sound board and blasted music, and after the finish filled the street by the team cars dancing and congratulating their man on his finish. It was great to see! Along with all the other nationalities that were there.

    Also, chatted with a woman who told me about a showing of the documentary called "Personal Gold". I went and highly recommend, if you can find a showing or maybe Netflix. It is the story of the 3 USA woman who decided to attempt the team pursuit in the 2012 Olympics with only 12 weeks training. As an added bonus, it turned out that the woman is the mother of the cyclist who just won a gold medal at US Track nationals -- and he was there and let me hold the medal! I tried to take a picture of him with it but it was too dark, my camera couldn't get the shot. (and I can't swear that I remember who it was, but think it was Jake Duehring. I confess that I had had a little wine...)

    I am a poor photographer, but I am hoping that some of my attempts turned out well. I haven't looked through them yet, still so tired from the drive back (10 hours, yikes! Traffic through Virginia was horrendous).

    SusieB, I hope that you were able to drive down for at least one day!, or at least got to watch as much as possible on the tube.


  4. Hey Rae...glad you had a nice time...I've done that drive w/ friends a few times now (we'd drive over from Norfolk to a small town just south of Columbus to watch the Buckeyes vs Wolverines football game in the Knights of Columbus bar where one of them was a member). Thankfully it was a really small town, and everybody knows they take our Wolverine-rooting intrusion in good spirits (that, and you've whipped us a LOT in the last 15 the home-team crowd was usually pretty happy by the end of the game). Yep...10 hours sounds about right.

    Well...we flew to Boston yesterday...only 8 hours...ugh. Now it's early Tues morning and we fly back home today...just got to deal w/ the LAX area traffic once we get in (about a 3 hour drive). Airplanes and airports are SO not fun anymore.

  5. Well...I'm sad to report that vacation is OVER, and I'm back to work today (Thursday). If I'd had more vacation I'd have taken today AND tomorrow off also...but I'm down to 2 days I think and that would have zero'd me out...and I don't want to have NO vacation on the books. So here I vacation never happened. The salt-mine is still blasting away making more salt...nothing has changed...we're short-handed with too much to do. Bah-HUMBUG! Come on FRIDAY!