The Dachau Concentration Camp

Today was a rather somber day.  The weather kind of sucked, could, drizzly, and I doubt it got above 10°C.  We spent most of the day in Dachau at the concentration camp memorial and museum.  Dachau, which is less than half an hour from Munich, was the site of one of the largest concentration camps and the one that set the standard for many others.  Nazis would refer to it as the “Dachau spirit”, when demonstrating how other concentration camps should operate.

I did not expect to spend nearly as much time there as we ended up doing.  In fact, we ended up missing a meal because of that.  Maybe that was fitting for the experience of being at a concentration camp.  As we learned today, those detained in the concentration camps often experienced starvation.  The museum and audio guide had a lot of information.  It also included a detailed history of Adolf Hitler’s NAZI party, and a lot of videos and first hand accounts of the day-to-day life inside the concentration camps.

The overarching theme is just how horrific it was.  Those imprisoned- their life meant nothing, their suffering- nothing.  Many starved to death, were gassed, forced to work, and were mocked and humiliated on a regular basis.  I’d always known about this horrific event, but until today I had never seen actual images and videos of it.  This put it in a whole new perspective.  I was mostly in disbelief about how something so bad could happen.  And it happened in a first world country only several years before my Dad was born.  Maybe that is one reason we are so fascinated with NAZI history, it is not nearly as far removed from us in the early 21st Century United States as Greeks, Romans, Barbarians, etc.

Hitler and the Nazis are brought up and quoted a bit in causal conversation, in my opinion way too callously.  Sure, it may be possible to compare the Defense Authorization Act with some things that occurred in mid 1930s Germany (specifically granting the government the right to detain indefinitely without due process), but after viewing this I feel it is kind of disrespectful to those who actually experienced the holocaust.   We usually bring up Hitler and the Nazis to prove a point.  But, we can probably find a more respectful way to make our points about the political climate in the early 21st Century.

More thoughts ran through my head, as despite our overuse of NAZI comparisons, it is still a very interesting case study in how a major economy/ first world country could go down such an evil path, and so recently too.  The rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany is almost always linked to the penalties and sanctions placed on Germany in the Treaty of Versailles that ended the First World War.  But, what really lead to World War I?  It seems less well known than WW II.  I am sure historians have good theories, but they are certainly less discussed in history class.  Also, were we (US and allies) the good guys in WW I?  After finally learning about Woodrow Wilson’s anti-German propaganda machine in the 1910s (no thanks to high school history class), I just don’t know anymore.  I think this is one reason people love to talk about World War II.  There is a very clear sense that we were the good guys, and NAZI Germany was the bad guys.  Very few wars are like this.  We try to romanticize past wars, especially the Civil War when you learn about it in Illinois, but further investigation shows that it was not nearly as clear-cut as the Land of Lincoln would like it to be.

Another thing that has pestered my in my head about Hitler is why he is always labeled a “right-wing” dictator.  Usually, this is done to contrast him with Communist dictators; Mao and Stalin.  There are important differences.  Most notably, Hitler’s Germany did not squash all corporate activity.  In fact, there were corporations who worked with the Reich.  However, the label is still misleading.  When translated into English, NAZI translates to “National Socialist Movement”.  In the U.S. socialism is considered left wing, at least on economic scale.  Also, many of the propaganda posters for the NAZI party I saw in the museum complained about the evils of greed and capitalism.  Rallying against “Jewish Capitalism” was seen in a lot of NAZI propaganda in advance of the 1932 elections.

I also learned that different groups of people were treated differently inside the camps.  For instance, Austrian nationals captured after the 1938 annexation of Austria were treated much better than Jews.  The more favored groups, while still having it rough, were not treated as rough, and had a higher survival rate.  Before today, I did not know that people were actually occasionally released from concentration camps.  This occurred mainly before the war.  And then there was a period of time in 1943 when they tried to improve conditions in the camps to increase survival rates to meet labor demand for the war effort.

I also did not know that corporations would pay the secret service for slave labor from these camps.  In fact, the German economy kind of became dependent on this labor, much in the same way the pre-civil war South was.  Overall, it was a learning day.  But, after all the walking, and the chilly weather, I was tired, so we did not do much else.

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