In March of 2006, my family and I traveled from our home in San Antonio, Texas, across the globe to Germany. Over my Spring Break, I experienced German food, culture, and popular tourist sites including the Glockenspiel, the Zugspitze mountain, and Neufweinstein Castle. After days filled with shopping, skiing, and sightseeing, my family finally took me to a place that has always fascinated me, and that is the Dachau concentration camp.
The day we went to Dachau was exciting for me, in a way, because I have always been interested in life in the concentration camps in Nazi Germany. I knew, however, that I needed to prepare myself emotionally for what loomed ahead. The cold spring air and grey skies set the tone for the solemn atmosphere around the camp. Although many others were also touring the camp, a distinct eeriness flooded the area.
A small crowd entered through tall black iron gates with the words “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work Makes You Free”) overhead and absorbed the starkness of the scene. Despite their size, lookout towers and foundations of rows of barracks that once stood there acted as thread in the blanket of emptiness tied down by trapping barbed wire fences. The group walked the graveled path to one of the barracks in utter amazement. As we walked one by one into a building, we saw how the thin, stacked wooden bunk beds made to fit about five people made for very uncomfortable living, and recalling pictures from the era made the experience come alive. The barracks seemed like a refrigerator, and the pictures of the starving Jewish prisoners showed that they had no coats.
After the barracks, we made our way to a building comprised of three main rooms: a dressing room, a shower area, and a room with three enormous ovens. We entered the first room through vault-like doors, and even though there were several tourists, the only sounds were from shuffling feet and the clicking of cameras. No one spoke. The shower room was equipped with holes for gas used to poison the prisoners, and the ovens in the next room were used to burn human corpses. Exiting this building, every person was too shocked for words. My heart was crying for the poor souls who had come through those doors some sixty years before us.
The group proceeded in piercing silence to the building that Nazi officers once occupied. The rooms are now filled with pictures and information about Dachau and its ghostly inhabitants. Although Dachau was not the worst concentration camp, the captured memories and history continued to shock and horrify me. The difference in people’s demeanor beginning from when they first entered the camp to when the tour ended was astounding. Not a word was spoken. Everyone was lost in his or her thoughts about the history of the camp, and the group disbanded.
My experience at Dachau impacted my life and the way I feel about the lives of others. I already knew that life should be respected, but now I know exactly how important respecting life really is. Innumerable lives were lost in Nazi concentration camps all because one group of people believed that they were superior to another. No one should feel that way. Every life should be treated equally and with great reverence.
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