In Germany, as do most countries around the world, the cities shut down for Christmas Day festivities. Munich was no different, and our family spent the day before figuring out what might be open that we’d be interested to see the next day.
We eventually decided to go to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site – a bit of an odd place to go for Christmas because, well, you expect to spend Christmas doing ‘Christmas things’, but I wrapped my head around it eventually. In the end, it became a very special trip for my family and probably the most memorable adventure of the holiday. When we arrived, I was pleasantly surprised at how busy it was and it was nice to see so many people actively engaged in this brutal history on such a festive day.
We wanted to visit Dachau because this place is important in history, but also important to my family. In 1944, my Dad’s grandfather was brought here, and over the years we’ve tried to accumulate as much information as we could about ‘why’. We never expected an answer, but we hoped for one.
After requesting archival information and waiting patiently for a response, Dad learned more, ultimately receiving documents with his grandfather’s name on them from registration done at the camp. On site, we had help understanding the codes and terminology that were used and we began to learn a lot more about him. We didn’t get an answer as to ‘why’ he entered the camp. If we’re lucky, we might learn this in Kassa, where he was taken from, but we did learn a little bit more of what happened when he arrived and what his life was like while he was there. I didn’t know this man, neither did my father, but after hearing stories about him from my grandmother, it felt special to be there and a connection was formed between us and the site.
75 years later and there’s still more to find out.
The Dachau Camp in general was interesting to see. I’ve been to Auschwitz before and that was a hard day spent wandering around a place that felt recently abandoned, while Auschwitz II looked in shambles. This was different. The main building reminded me of a doll house; with fresh paint and an artistic sculpture in the middle, as well as reconstructed block houses that looked new.
Then we learned about the city and it began to make sense. This was the first concentration camp, so it was often used to show the Red Cross or foreign nationals how ‘clean and quality of a system’ this supposedly was. Sometimes family members even visited to get paperwork signed..and to think that they didn’t know how bad it was inside. I previously had learned about the facade that had been set up, but learning the extent of it was new for me… it’s continually mind boggling.
I actually hate that I still learn more about the Holocaust on each site visit. There shouldn’t be so many secrets that are only now resurfacing.
The town of Dachau knows all about secrets. It was an area that often claims it ‘didn’t know what was going on’ and ‘didn’t know the camp existed’ but it was a town with most of the residents being SS members. Actually, the route we took to get to the site… train and bus… that was the journey the SS leaders would take. That train station is where the prisoners would be taken, before being forced to run the 5km to the site. After learning the information about transit and the people of Dachau, the bus back to the train station felt different. Weighed down.
This visit was so important to me, but I didn’t realize to what extent until I took time to reflect on it later. I want my career to be about returning the missing to their families and giving families a sense of closure, and in a way, I was witness to that for my own family.
We watched the sun set over the remains of this terrible place, where hundreds of thousands of people were tortured and died, and I became very glad to be with my family on Christmas Day.