Discerning Dachau

Meandering in Munich
Relaxing on the River (Beatrice)

We visited Dachau, about 45 minutes by train from Munich. Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp. Founded in 1933, it was designed to gather together and isolate “enemies of the state”. It was a work camp, and conditions were horrific – hard work, meagre rations, severe punishments and torture. Designed to hold 3,000 inmates, by the end of the war there were ten times that number. About 32,000 people died at Dachau between 1933 and 1945. Some of what is there today is a reconstruction, but the site is a sobering reminder of what was & should never be again! There is a very informative museum housed inside original administrative buildings of the camp. The barracks had been demolished but foundation stones marked the extent of them, and one had been recreated as a display.

The most moving part of the site was the crematorium, which was original. The gas chamber, with its fake shower heads and the ovens are witness to the atrocities committed there. Dachau was not a death camp, so there were no mass executions, but death from disease, starvation, and the severe treatment was common. There is a memorial garden around the crematorium where the ashes of countless unknown people had been buried.

There are several memorials at Dachau but I found the Jewish one particularly moving. The Catholic and Protestant buildings are churches, but the Jewish one is purely a memorial. It was dedicated on May 7, 1967. The structure is made of black basalt lava and slopes downward like a ramp. At the end of the entrance ramp is a wrought iron gate which goes all the way across the entrance and is the only thing covering the opening to the small room, which is exposed to the elements. This gate is reminiscent of the gate to the camp, except the iron bars are jumbled and chaotic and the gate features a Star of David rather than the “Arbeit Macht Frei” slogan. The interior of the Jewish Memorial is six feet below ground, the depth of a grave. After descending into this tomb-like room, one can look up through an opening in the roof at the far end and see the Menorah on the top of the building, symbolising liberation and hope. The gold-colored shaft on the back wall is made from marble taken from Peki’in in Israel, where it is said that at least one Jew has lived since Biblical times. Inside burns an eternal light.

The Mortal Agony of Christ Chapel from 1960 was the first religious monument to be erected. Former prisoners including Johannes Neuhäusler, who was later to become the auxiliary bishop of Munich, were instrumental in getting the church built. In 1972, Polish priests who had survived in the camp hung a plaque on the back of the chapel recalling the suffering of Polish prisoners who suffered in the concentration camp. The position of the chapel and the open circular form was designed by the architect Josef Wiedemann to symbolize the liberation from captivity by Christ.

The sculpture below is not flat as it looks here, but it is around 4 feet deep. At first glance it looks like barbed wire, then you realise these are skeletal bodies writhing in agony. The posts resemble closely those that supported the barbed wire around the camp. It was erected in 1968 after an international competition.

Another memorial captures it well: “May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933 – 1945 because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defence of peace and freedom and respect for their fellow men.”


  • To see all the posts about our 2016 Danube River cruise click HERE.
  • Although this post was written in 2021, it happened in June 2016, 5 years ago. Since I didn’t document the trip at the time, now seemed as good a time as any to catch up. 

One thought on “Discerning Dachau

  1. WOW! These are a little different from the sites I saw about 10 to 15 years ago when I was at Dachau. They were just beginning to restore it when I was there. Thanks for sharing!

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