Rear Window Ethics Rear Window Ethics: Dachau

Friday, June 24, 2005


As I mentioned a few times before, there was a deeply sobering portion of our otherwise fun-filled Europe trip. My brother and I felt the need to visit memorial site of the former Dachau concentration camp while in Munich, and though seeing the ruins of such a place was deeply disturbing, beholding the tourist-like spectacle of it might have been worse.


I was amazed that the town of Dachau is active and fairly normal while sitting just outside the gates of a place that worked so many to death and sent so many others to death camps by rail. There's a soccer field next to the entrance to the camp, and one side of the camp's museum is bordered by a neighborhood of houses. I can't imagine living next to something like that.

I don't know what I expected as we pulled into the parking lot near the entrance, but a line of coach busses certainly wasn't it. The lot had the same feeling as many of the touristy sites we visited on the trip. There's a long gravel road that leads from the lot to the old camp gates, and while I think most people on that trail remained relatively quiet and serious, there was enough of the opposite behavior for it to stick out.


At the front gates of the camp, near the rusted remains of a rail system that had sent so many to their death, two teenage girls stood primping and giggling before having their picture taken. There they posed, after they'd made sure to look cute, smiling in front of the gates of the camp.

Inside the gates the atmosphere was much the same. The distinct sound of laughter broke otherwise muffled silence on a number of occasions. Large groups of high schoolers on a class trip sat and ate their lunches next to a large sculpture memorializing the multitude of prisoners that starved to death on the surrounding grounds.


As you can see, I took a few pictures. I was hesitant at first, but decided that I would photograph those images that were particularly powerful to me, as my own way of taking in the horrific reality of what was before me. I took pictures on the grounds, in The Bunker, and outside the gates, but I immediately stopped once we reached the sheltered enclave surrounding the crematorium.

The site where thousands and thousands of bodies were disposed of in as quick a manner as possible was enclosed in a beautiful wooded garden complete with a winding path which itself is surrounded by scores of small memorials. As I walked around the building, past the old shooting range where so many were executed, past the multitude of small flowery gardens, thousands of birds sang together so beautifully.

The crematorium itself, complete with a gas chamber that was (by most accounts) never used for mass murder, stood surrounded by such placid, natural beauty. We four stood there slightly dazed, a few with tear-stained faces, when a couple came up and asked my sister in broken English if she could take a picture of them standing in front of the open ovens of the crematorium.

It was a haunting moment. A horrible moment. Even in that small vestige of peace surrounding a building of such grave consequence, the feeling that we were simply at another tourist attraction swelled up around us and tainted the moment forever.


After that we quickly exited the front gates of the camp and made our way down the gravel road toward the parking lot. As we walked, stone-faced, hoards of tourists -- young and old, of all nationalities -- walked towards us on their way to the camp. Many of them were smiling and chatting away as if they weren't on the same road upon which so many had marched to their deaths.