“Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Makes you Free) stoically greeted us as we walked into the Dachau Concentration Camp. These words in wrought iron were the philosopher kings philosophizing to the untermenschen walking through the gate. The Gestapo taught prisoners they could earn their freedom if they worked hard and conformed to Nazi Socialist ideology.
Then came the Bunker, the prison where political and religious prisoners who posed a threat to Nazi power lived and died. Some cells were divided into multiple smaller cells – too small to sit or lie down.
Two rows of conifers lined the “Spirit of the Camp”, the road between the barracks where prisoners met to exchange information during their limited free time. As I walked down the path, I listened to commentary about female prisoners forced to work in a brothel created by the Gestapo to propagate more workers, and Dr. Sigmund Rascher’s human experimentation with altitudes, freezing, and infectious diseases.
This led to the farthest end of the camp, where Dachau’s darkest secret remained obscured in the forest outside the camp’s main walls. Along a path through the woods was an execution range with blood ditch and a pistol range for execution. Coming full-circle was a solitary building with a towering chimney, which exhaled the smoke of incinerating bodies – each of six incinerators could hold two to three bodies. Ashes were still visible in the collection grates.
In the room beside the incinerators was the gassing chamber. Above the door, a sign read “BRAUSEBAD” – Showers, and on the outside wall were two drop-boxes where canisters of Prussic Acid were dropped into the room.