A sombre monument to what should never happen again.
The Dachau concentration camp was the first concentration camp established by the Nazi party in 1933. At first it was meant as a camp for political prisoners, but it is estimated that over 188.000 people were incarcerated there between 1933 and 1945. Like many other Nazi concentration camps, Dachau evolved into a forced labour camp, complete with a crematorium, mass killings and medical and military endurance experiments on the prisoners.
I visited Dachau in 2010 with my mother, who thought it was important for me to see this particular concentration camp site, as my great-grandfather was imprisoned there for a while. Luckily, he managed to survive and went on to lead a good life, but so many others were not so lucky and their struggle should be remembered to ensure history never repeats itself.
The memorial site is quite well-organised, with plenty of information signs and survivor testimonies. It succeeds at creating a sombre atmosphere, which I believe is incredibly important for Holocaust memorials. In my opinion, they should be an informative, soul-deep troubling experience, from which one should emerge with a firm resolution to never let something like this happen again. They should serve as a powerful reminder of how easy it is to follow the masses into madness and how quickly a perceived superiority can turn into cruelty. We should always remember, that there is no such thing as an innocent, non-complicit observer, as doing nothing does not absolve us of the responsibility. Every action, no matter how small, is better than blatant indifference.
With the wrong kind of dark tourism on the rise, the ethical component of visiting genocide and other death sites is becoming increasingly important, as remembrance is giving way to unhealthy sensationalism. While I have always been fascinated with the Nazi experiments and tactics and believe any advances in science should be taken advantage of, despite the fact that the way they were achieved leaves me sick to my stomach, I have always approached the subject with a heavy heart and respect for the dead. I do not believe there is anything wrong with being fascinated by the darkness of humankind, as we are often drawn to the anathema of what we are used to believing is right, but this fascination should always be accompanied by reflection. We can only learn and mature through understanding, which is why a visit to a Holocaust memorial site with proper guidance should be mandatory for everyone, to fully internalise the notion that no human being is inferior or undeserving of dignity.
The Dachau concentration camp
Since Holocaust has become a controversial topic, with a worrying number of deniers and some countries have even began to systematically supress their past, it is more important than ever to educate people about history as it was, not as we would prefer it to be. What sets the events of the Holocaust apart from other, even more numerous genocides, is that the Final solution was seen as a work of good by the people implementing it. It is often forgotten that the Holocaust did not only target the Jews, but also the Roma and some Slavic people, as well as the mentally and physically disabled in the so called Euthanasia programme. The Holocaust was a systematic attempt at ridding the world of all those seen as inferior, of purifying the human species and offering a merciful end to those deemed unfit. As such it was not a genocide committed upon a long-term enemy out of hatred or a struggle for dominance between warring tribes, but a conscious, purely objective decision to change the world for what was considered the better (also in terms of political and economic consequences). It was this logic-based, organised mentality-turned-belief that succeeded in attracting so many fanatically devout followers and allowed the bystanders to convince themselves they need not act. And it is this understanding that should be the takeaway from a visit to a site such as the Dachau concentration camp, to ensure that the world will never again fall into such a psychological trap.
You can visit Dachau without a guided tour, as the exhibits allover the place are more than enough for a whole day and, if you are like me, you will be emotionally drained halfway through it. Personally, I believe it is OK to take photos of anywhere, but please don’t take selfies, specially not with a huge smile on your face, as those kind of people just make me want to slap them with a stick. Have respect for what the place represents and learn from it.