The Nazi government started the first concentration camp at Dachau, Germany in March of 1933. It has been renovated and preserved as a Holocaust memorial to those who suffered and died there between 1933 and its liberation in 1945. There are several tours from nearby Munich, although you can visit on your own, using public transportation.
The memorial is well-documented in English and you should have no trouble understanding what went on by simply going there yourself. However, a guided tour offers you insights you may not get by just wandering through the exhibits.
Dachau is an interesting town in itself, with roots back to the 9th century. Dachau became the most famous artists’ colony in Germany in the 1870s.
Dachau Gate: Arbeit Macht Frei
This is where you enter the concentration camp. More than 600,000 people from all over the world come through this gate each year to visit the memorial.
The first prisoners were political, they were simply those who opposed the Nazi regime. Later, other groups were also interned at Dachau, including hardened criminals, homosexuals, gypsies, and Jehovah's Witnesses. It was only later that Jews were interned at Dachau.
The first camp was a re-use of an old munitions factory from the first world war that existed on the site. The camp completed in 1938 was designed for 6,000 prisoners but often held much more. The camp was surrounded by electrified fences and watchtowers. The gate to the main entrance had the words "Arbeit Macht Frei" ("Work Makes You Free") at the top.
The Crematorium: Barrack X
When the camp was built, the local population was ready to provide it with food from their gardens. Times were tough, and people needed cash badly. They were turned away.
Eventually, grossly overcrowded camps with malnourished prisoners posed a problem for the people who didn't want them. It didn't make sense for people a government had imprisoned to get health care and decent nourishment. The Nazis needed a quick and dirty way to dispose of the increasing numbers of the dead. The answer was cremation, although, eventually, fuel for the fires ran out.
The camp was liberated in 1945. George Stevens' Irregulars filmed the liberation of the Dachau Concentration Camp. It's a chilling video.
Dachau has a tourism section in English, where you can learn about Dachau as an Artist's Colony in the starting in the late 19th century.
Radius Tours offers a three-hour tour of Dachau starting at the train station. All transportation costs are included. It spares no detail, including information about medical experiments on prisoners, mass executions of prisoners-of-war and Dachau's role as a way station for Jewish prisoners en route to gas chambers.
Munich Walk Tours offer a similar three-hour tour of Dachau that can be combined with its Third Reich Tour for a reduced price.
- To get to the Dachau Memorial on your own from the main train station, descend down to the S-Bahn platforms and board any train on the S2 line with the destination marked as Dachau or Petershausen.
- From Dachau station, Bus 726 or 724 will take you to the Memorial. To see the route, or to plan a route from another destination in Europe, see: Munich to Dachau; change the origin to anything you wish if you aren't traveling from Munich.
- Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site address: Alte Römerstraße 75, 85221 Dachau