Wednesday, July 14, 2010

GERMANY TRIP BLOG - DAY 13 – 6-4-10 - Dachau Concentration Camp

Woke up at 6:45. Laid in bed. Cuddled. Hungry and wide awake. Matt was also awake and I was starving (been hungry since yesterday's lunch). Remembered I had food bars so sucked down one of them while we watched CNN. Got dressed and headed downstairs 30 minutes before everyone else.
The dining area was crowded with the new hotel guests. The male and female server were working. I asked her for my 3 eggs. He found me a small table and asked (in German) where my family was. I explained (in German) they were coming in 30 minutes. He understood. I ate 3 eggs and 2 croissants (with jelly).
Matt, Mom, and Dad arrived before I finished eating. I went upstairs and worked on yesterday's Diary for about 40 minutes. We all left for the subway together (so Matt use our ticket, saving Mom and I paying for additional tickets). We all went to Mary's Place and figured out what time to meet by the statue (around 3:30). Mom and I wanted to tour the Duchau concentration camp. We both felt the same pull. Matt and Dad felt the opposite, so they went to the "German Smithsonian" Transportation Museum, then the Hunting and Fishing Museum.
An American (from Wisconsin) held up tour signs, and soon Colette, our tour guide arrived (ex-program manager from PBS in L.A., CA). Both learned German while here. Both had been here nearly 3 years. Our tour guide told us we had time for the bathroom and to snag food, if we wanted to eat in the next 5 hours. I was still hungry, so I bought 2 half sandwiches, 2 croissants, and what I hoped was a big cinnamon roll, but wasn't nearly as tasty.
There were about 20 of us on the tour. 4 ladies from TN, 1 gal from TX, a couple in their 50's from New Zealand (touring Europe since they were here for their nephew's wedding – 21 hour plane ride to get here!), a guy from Brazil, and one from Australia (very friendly and took even more photos than I did).
We got on the subway, which went above ground eventually. While on it, we paid the 19 Euros for our tour, which included transportation. Colette assured us she never lost anyone getting to Dachau, but admitted sometimes people leaving the concentration camp hit the nearby McDonald's, and then she loses a few.
We got off the train and onto a public bus, which we rode about 15 minutes to get to Dachau.

DACHAU (Germany’s 1st Concentration Camp)
During WWI it was a military base. When Germany lost, they were forced to disarm, so it was abandoned until it was opened again in 1933 when Hitler became head of the Nazi party.
Hitler wanted to head up the Nazi's in the 20's, but it was a time of money – The Roaring ‘20's, and a bad time for socialism to start up. So he waited, knowing eventually the market would fall, as it always does, and then he'd try again.
In the ‘30's, the stock market crashed. It was the Nazi's who started up the Soup Lines. People were poorer, times were hard, and everything was just right for Hitler to try again with his Nazi's.
A theatre caught on fire while it was full and a bunch of Germans died. It was definitely arson and probably started by the Nazi's, who claimed Russians were to blame. This "terrorist attack” allowed Hitler to declare a state of emergency, which meant anyone could be thrown into prison for any reason (real or not), without a trial, for as long as the government wanted.
This scared the crap out of everyone. The jails were filled as blacks, Jews, Catholics, homosexuals, real criminals (used in prison camps to be in charge of the other prisoners – perfect work for psychopaths), gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, and anyone protecting these people or who was considered a threat. Anyone with mental or physical defects went to a castle "for treatments" paid for by the government where they were secretly given lethal injections.
Jews were put into grottos, and the idea was to keep them in there without food, water, or medicine, until they died and rotted. But there were still too many, so they were put on trains and taken to prison camps.
Dachau was the first, and became a model for all the other concentration camps. Next to Dachau was the S.S. training camp. When the first prisoner arrived, one guy hit a guard on the head and escaped. He went to Czech. where he printed his story in four different languages, but no one paid any attention.
The Nazi's made sure this never happened again. There was a moat outside the electric fence as well as a dry one inside. Inside the inner moat, they grew a strip of grass, several feet across - called the Death Grass. If a prisoner put one foot on it the guards were supposed to shoot them. Guards earned extra time off for every prisoner they killed.

One of the "games" the guards played was they'd knock a prisoner's hat onto the Death Grass. The prisoner didn't know if he should go after his hat, and risk getting killed. If he appeared in Role Call without his hat, he’d be sent to the Punishment Room where he’d likely be tortured to death. Sometimes the guard was just mentally torturing the prisoner, and didn't kill them for retrieving their hat from the grass.
When people first entered, they had to leave all possessions - letters, recipes, photos, etc. This stripped prisoners of their past and personality. Their heads shaved. In the prison camp, anyone who couldn't work was killed off immediately. The rest were worked to death, or killed for any reason at all. Most made the weapons for the Germans.
Another “game” guards participated in was telling prisoners they were going to be executed. They’d blindfold them, line them up, and shoot their guns in the air instead of at the prisoners. Just to watch them jump.
Some people tended herb gardens and were used as medical experiments to see what the herbs did. Many died because the herbs were poisonous, from an O.D., etc. Dachau was also the special prison for priests. Catholic priests burned the bodies (goes against their faith) and removed the ashes. Rabbis tended pigs. Anything to degrade and psychologically torture them.
30,000 people died in Dachau between 1933-45. Over 1 millions killed in Auschwitz.
In 1945 the Jews were liberated. During the Holocaust, people in surrounding towns suspected and heard rumors of what went on. Hitler allowed and encouraged rumors, because it left people fearful and uncertain just how bad things really were, so they’d fear for their own lives and do as ordered. Still, they had no real idea of the horrors until they were forced to visit Dachau. Even seeing skeletal bodies (in huge piles because Nazi’s ran out of coal to burn them), they couldn’t take it in as they walked away, weeping and shaking their heads.
Even after they were freed, prisoners still died because the nice soldiers fed them lots of chocolate and rich food, which their systems couldn't handle. Their bodies couldn't process the chocolate, which put them into comas and they died. Sometimes their stomach's just exploded. Doctors figured out what was happening and someone put them on a special diet, where they were still fed very little, slowly eating a bit more, until their bodies could handle real food.
After serving as a prison for Nazi leaders, Dachau became temporary housing for Germans who'd been in Czech. and kicked back to Germany after the war. Their homes were gone and they had no place to go. They turned the camp into a village, making it a bright, happy place, with a theatre, cinema, grocery store, etc.
The German govt. was going to demolish the place and put up condos. Those imprisoned here spent 20 years in court until they won the right to leave it as a memorial so their time and all the deaths wouldn't be wasted. Never forget. They rebuilt a few of the original buildings.
Today, aside from tours, the area is used to train Bavarian riot police.

We started by watching a 20 minute film with real footage filmed by Nazis and American soldiers who freed the Dachau prisoners. It also provided a short history of Hitler and the Nazi party. Then it explained how the prison camps worked and how the prisoners heard nearby fighting and just tried to live a few more days or hours until they were freed. It showed people from nearby towns who were shown bodies piled in rooms. They all shook their heads in shock and disbelief. Many cried as they walked away.
After the movie, Mom told me it's possible some of our relatives (Beise's or Pattons) were killed here. After WWII, her relatives contacted the Red Cross to find out what happened to their German relatives. The Red Cross checked their lists of people still alive and said, "There are no survivors." We don't know what happened to them.
Really wish she'd told me this earlier, before we arrived. Terrible timing, but I hadn’t realized it. Maybe it’s why we felt drawn to see the place. We talked about how the area feels different. Mom told me the house Abe Lincoln died in feels sort of the same way. There’s a sense of great loss and sorrow.

DAY HOUSE – Where the entry gate was. The phrase on the gate translates "Work Means Freedom" or "Work Sets You Free". The gate is a replica. No one knows where the real one is.

PERIMETER - Death Grass, canal, barbed wire electric fence (where prisoners committed suicide by throwing themselves onto it), and the outer moat. The bridge over the moat wasn't there originally. Everything else is a replica.

CREMATORIUM – 1940 – At least 11,000 people were burned in it.
When the Nazis needed a bigger crematorium, they built “Barrack X” outside the gate (to hide the horror from prisoners and camp visitors). It was built in 1942-43 by Catholic Priests. The "X" was the code name for the gas chamber, which was maybe tested once, but never used (for reasons no one understands).
Prisoners were hung in front of the crematorium. During the last few months of the war, there wasn't enough coal anywhere, so bodies piled up.

3 Religions
Left side – Protestant
Center – Catholic
Right – Jewish Memorial – all building material came from Israel (no German material).

Suicide Memorial – 1967 – Big black sculpture in front of the white Maintenance House. The bodies represent prisoners who committed suicide on the electric fence as well as the piles of dead bodies.

BARRACKS – OUTSIDE - There are 2 replicas. Outlines of where the rest were are represented by large cement rectangles. There was a row on either side of the poplar trees (which only live 40 years, so new ones get planted in the same place).. Each of the 4 rooms had 50 prisoners (or more) crammed into them.

BARRACKS – INSIDE – Replica shows three versions as they changed over time.
1 – Before WWII the original barracks gave each person their own space. Beds were like troughs. Prisoners had a mattress, pillow, and blanket.

When they got up at 4:30 and had to make sure (as a form of torture) that their beds were perfect. No straw sticking out of mattress. Pillows perfectly lined up with those on either side. Blankets with plaid design laid so all the lines were perfectly lined up with the blanket next to it. Floor scrubbed spotless.
Then they got breakfast and had to be at roll call by 6:30. Sounds like plenty of time, but much of it was spent making the beds, plus the farther you were from the roll call area, the longer it took to get there.
2 – No dividers between each beds. Just a bunch of flat, wooden boxes laying in rows. Each prisoner got a pillow and a blanket. No mattress. Prisoners got 2 foot lockers to store their bowls, fork and spoon. Bowls had to be placed in the exact middle of the locker.
Meals rarely contained meat. Soup served daily. People took turns being served first for the soup line, and Jehovah's Witnesses made sure the sick people weren't in front. (All the good stuff falls to the bottom.)

3 – By 1942 there was no space. No locker rooms. Beds were essentially a large box that people laid in. Because of Typhus, it was healthier to sleep outside the barracks.

WASH BASINS & URINALS – original – (Brought back to Dachau.)

MAINTENANCE HOUSE – Original building. Looks like half of the outline of a rectangle. White building with the huge body pile sculpture in front of it. Now it's a museum.
Mom put her hand on the large map where the Beise family "town" of 4 houses was.

Saw a real prisoner uniform. The color of the triangle distinguished why the prisoner was in the camp:
Yellow on sleeve and back of neck – Jew.
Pink– homosexual.
Green – criminal.
Black – blacks, gypsies, misc.
Purple – Jehovah's Witnesses.
Red – Catholic (I think).
Purple band around arm - prestigious prisoner.
Prisoners were subdivided to promote infighting (which prevented them ganging up and organizing resistance).

BUNKER – Original building & doors. The building is behind the Maintenance House. Used for punishing regular inmates and holding VIPs – captured dignitaries Hitler hoped would report good treatment so their country would join the Germans. VIPs got their own rooms.
Most of the rooms were alike – bare and small. Took shots through a hole in a locked door into a room had a long sink.

The Beating Block in the Punishment Room is a replica.

Usually the prisoners laid on a wooden table and were being beaten on the back with a rod 25 times. The prisoner had to count each hit in German (which meant if they lost count or couldn't count in German, they'd just keep getting beaten). Eventually one bright Nazi figured out a prisoner could get hit by two people, and each double-hit counted as "one".

Pole Hanging

They hung prisoners from a tree, pole, or cross (for Catholic priests). This activity originally was performed outside. With their arms behind them, but raised over their heads, the prisoners were beaten. Eventually their arms popped out of their sockets. Fellow prisoners would cut them loose and put their arms back in the sockets.
Psychologically, the prisoners were scared they'd be hurt too badly to work and get sent away for a "special treatment" (in the castle where lethal injections were administered).
Later Pole Hanging was done inside the building. Prisoners were hung from their wrists and tied to poles. The windows were left open so people outside could be tortured by the screams.

Standing Cell
A two and a half foot square cell forced people to stand in the dark for days. Once a day, they were fed bread and water.

The guy who tried to kill Hitler got a suite in the building because Hitler didn't want anyone to know about him. The would-be assassin was a Black Forest kuku clock maker. Clocks are a lot like bombs. He knew Hitler spoke the same propaganda speech in the same building at the same time once a year. He planted the bomb the day before Hitler arrived and took off for another country.
Because of bad weather, Hitler was forced to leave a little early and go by train, rather than plane. 10 minutes after he left, the bomb went off (as planned), killing 8 people but not Hitler. The assassin didn't know that, and kept checking newspapers, looking for headlines blaring Hitler was killed.
People thought he was crazy when he boasted he'd killed Hitler. Even after learning Hitler was still alive, to prove he wasn't nuts, he drew plans for the bomb. People finally believed he wasn't raving and shipped him back to Germany.
Hitler was totally embarrassed that a stupid clock-maker nearly did him in, so he hid him in the suite in the Bunker. 3 weeks before Dachau was freed, he was executed.

Prisoners leased or sold as workers for other countries or companies were returned and they wanted their money back because the prisoners were so broken and sick they couldn’t work. (Prisoners were told they’d be freed if they worked hard enough, and were still too weak.)
Ravensbrook was a women's camp. Women were told they could "work" for their freedom by prostituting themselves. Men sometimes earned money by working for the Nazis and could buy a prostitute for 2 cents. The "working women" never left the camp and died there.

The area between Maintenance Building and the Barracks was the square where prisoners gathered for roll call. They stood there for hours in extremely hot and cold temperatures as another form of torture. People died standing in roll call.

All German schoolchildren are required to go to a concentration camp.

We were given 20 minutes to walk around.
Mom and I tried to get into the documentation area, to see if we could find record of those in our family who didn’t survive WWII, but no one answered the bell. We‘ll email later and ask if they have any records from Mom's Great Grandpa's family. Mom doesn't have the first names of those who stayed in Germany, but maybe there's a letter or picture with the name of someone who immigrated to America.
The sun was out and it was warm today. Ate sitting outside the gift shop and on the bus. Chatted with the gals from TN. Our guide got sucked into the conversation. She said sauerkraut helps you lose weight. Cabbage in soup does the same. Speeds up your metabolism. She's still gained 10 lbs here from eating bread and cheese. In August she'll get a work visa so she can get a real job, and stop being a tour guide. She wants to manage PR for Expedia – global company, so she'll get to travel all over Europe – for pay.
While waiting for the train, gave her my card and we chatted. Colette thinks I'd make a great commercial actress. We'll see if anything happens.
Once we got off the train, Mom and I chatted with the TN ladies, who were heading to Oberammergau to see the Passion Play. We gave them tips. One gal's church has put on the same Passion Play, several times, in English – including the live animals. They even have the camels!

Mom and I found Matt and Dad by the statue. They'd eaten, but we were starving. I thought Matt said he got his turkey wrap near the hotel. "Near" wasn't very descriptive.
We got on the subway, and popped out on the big empty lot where Oktoberfest is held. HOT. Sunny. Awful. If I'd known about walking in the sun for so long, I'd never have agreed. Then up an hill and across a few blocks (in the sun).
We were the only ones in the restaurant. Mom and I both had the chicken wrap, which was good. The server was impressed with my German. I didn't use many phrases and sentences, but used them well. Ate both halves of my wrap – twice the protein I usually eat, plus most of Mom's "wrap" tortilla, plus a few bites of Matt and Mom's ice cream. I wasn’t full, but finally stopped feeling hungry.
I gave our server a piece of candy, which he took for his daughter. I asked how old she was, in German "How many" then accidentally switched to French when I said "years". Turns out the guy's French. So I flipped into French as we departed. Asked Matt the words for week and year in German as we walked in the cooler afternoon weather back to our hotel.

OKTOBERFEST FIELD - Took a few pictures of Matt acting goofy (his request).

ST. PAUL'S – Great views as we walked to our hotel.

Matt snagged the PC so I changed into shorts and stretched. When Matt returned I worked on finishing yesterday's Diary while he read.
He took a break to snag a beer from the hotel, panting. "Ok. I have a new rule. I can drink all the beers I want as long as I run up and down 8 flights of stairs to get them." He buys the beers from the hotel. Cooled in a cooler, you're supposed to write down your room number and what you snagged, then at the end of your stay, you get billed for them (if you're honest). Germans are more trusting than Americans.
Mom came over and we talked about what to do tomorrow and Sunday. Mom and Matt wanted to call Peter and Marlies, so Matt figured out how to dial their number from my phone.
Peter tried to wheedle us back to their place. Nico is out of the hospital and doing better. They figured out what time we were planning to arrive at the Dresden hotel.
Matt fortunately fell asleep while I was typing on Diary, but not for long. He finally kicked me off the computer around 12:30, just as I got to where I could go back and sort yesterday's photos.
Matt said, "If this is the biggest problem we have as a couple, I can live with that." I agreed.

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