The Dachau Concentration Camp visit is an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Some places on the planet bring you the utmost joy. It makes you feel every human must visit that place to gain that immense joy. I felt the same during my visit to Dachau Concentration Camp- Not the pleasure. But every human must visit at least one concentration camp in their life to realize what homo sapiens are capable of doing to each other.
This post shows why and how to visit Dachau with all the necessary details and a pinch of history.
- Is it worth visiting Dachau?
- How to get there?
- Things to know before you go
- History of Dachau
- Personal experience at Dachau
- Things to do in Dachau town other than the Concentration Camp
Is it worth visiting Dachau?
Yes. A visit to Dachau isn’t about worthiness. But an essential one. It’s not an easy experience. Unless you are a jew or hail from Europe, very likely none of your blood relations would have suffered in the Holocaust. It is where one of our kinds massacred hundreds of the same in the name of religious/political/biological conflicts!
If you are someone who says Holocaust never happened, a visit to Dachau Concentration Camp can prove all the baseless theory upside down.
Despite the overwhelming sadness, I left Dachau grateful for the experience. It was a reminder of the importance of bearing witness to history and never forgetting the dreadfulness that human beings are capable of committing.
Where is Dachau?
The infamous Dachau, down in southern Germany near Munich, started as a political prisoner camp in 1933 but tragically turned into a death trap for countless Jews. The prisoners faced a triple threat of malnutrition, disease, and gruelling labour, with executions also adding to the horrors.
What is Dachau today?
In 1965, the Dachau Concentration Camp was converted into a Memorial Site. A crowd favourite for history buffs and curious minds alike, the site attracts thousands of visitors annually to pay their respects and learn about the grim realities of the Holocaust.
And Daachau town has outgrown the Concentration camp now!
Even before the concentration camp, Dachau town was known for being the summer residence of Bavarian kings. So there are several gardens and palaces now. It is now like any other small town of Germany and also home to around 50 refugees.
How to get to Dachau from Munich, Germany?
It is super simple to get to Dachau from Munich using public transport. Take suburban train S2 from Marienplatz or Munich central station towards Petershausen and get off at Dachau station.
The journey from Munich to Dachau takes around 30 minutes. If you are exploring the small town first, walk from the railway station.
To visit Dachau Concentration Camp, take the staircase down at the train station to catch bus number 726. Get off the bus at “KZ-Gedenkstatte.” A 100M walk will take you to the Dachau Concentration Camp visitor centre.
Heads Up: I used a 9 Euro ticket to travel around Germany in 2022, which isn’t available anymore, So you must buy valid tickets before boarding.
Things to know before you visit Dachau Concentration Camp
- Entry to the Dachau Concentration Camp is free of charge.
- Read about Holocaust, Nazi and why Hitler wanted to build concentration camps mainly to kill Jews before going to understand Dachau better. Suggested short Readings:
- The site exhibits short movies which are scheduled in various languages. Don’t miss it, even in a language you don’t understand.
- If you’re planning to bring children along, keep in mind that they are only allowed to enter with their parents and may not have access to certain exhibits and films.
- Be prepared for an emotionally intense experience. Dachau Concentration Camp is a place of immense sadness and tragedy, and it’s important to approach it with sensitivity and respect.
- Wear appropriate footwear. The camp is largely outdoors and includes a lot of walking, so comfortable shoes and weather-appropriate attire are essential.
- The visitor centre houses a restaurant that even has options for vegetarians. It is on the expensive side. But good enough to quench your thirst with some drinks
- Stay hydrated and nourished; carry a water bottle to the site, as you won’t find any water fountains once you enter the camp.
Can I bring a backpack to Dachau?
Yes. You can bring your backpacks and camera bags. Many visit the Dachau Concentration camp as a stopover between Stuttgart to Munich. So you will find people with light luggage. Keep in mind that there are no locker rooms.
Can you visit Dachau without a tour?
Yes. In fact, I recommend you visit the Dachau Concentration camp without a tour. This place has to be seen in detail without rushing. The guided tours are time restricted, so you may feel rushed. Every part of the site has boards with a detailed narrative.
If you still need a guided tour, hire audio guides at the visitor centre. They are available in 14 languages, including English, Arabic, Hebrew, Russian and other European language.
How much time do you need at Dachau?
The site covers a vast area of 20 acres, so set aside around three hours if you intend to explore it thoroughly.
Are pictures allowed at Dachau?
Yes. You don’t need to obtain a permit to take photographs at the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. The only places in the world where I don’t see people clicking selfie sticks are the Dachau concentration camp and Hiroshima, for all the right reasons.
History of Dachau Concentration Camp.
It isn’t a thing to boast about- But unfortunately, the truth is Dachau is the first-ever Concentration Camp. It was established in March 1933 by the Nazi government’s Police president of Munich as a camp for political prisoners.
In its initial year of operation, the camp could accommodate up to 5,000 detainees, mostly comprising German Communists, Social Democrats, trade unionists, and various political adversaries of the Nazi administration.
Gradually, Dachau also housed individuals from other communities, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Gipsies, homosexuals, and those labelled “asocial” or with a history of criminal offences. While Jewish internees were scarce during the early stages of the camp’s existence.
What was Dachau best known for?
In the later months of 1933, cruel punishments were introduced for a minor offenses. Moreover, the camp inspector of then wanted this place to be a model for the coming up camps. Hence it even became a training centre for Nazi guards – Basically, those who worked for Nazis were taught how to torture people until the victim died.
The camp grew. More barracks were added, and hence more humans were tortured. Crematoriums were built to burn the dead. Apart from gas chambers to kill the prisoners, there were several ways how people were killed here.
Some were forced to labour and died of malnutrition. The others were the rabbits for German medical experiments such as converting seawater into potable water and experiments on hypothermia. Most were punished seriously and left to die of injuries.
When was Dachau liberated
As fate would have it, on April 29, 1945, the US troops reached Dachau, only to stumble upon a gruesome discovery of over 30 railcars packed to the brim with decaying bodies, which had been ferried to the camp. And in May 1945, the American troops managed to rescue the prisoners forced to partake in the notorious “death march.”
By 1945, Allied forces approached the camp, and there were more than 65000 prisoners! It included both political Prisoners and Jews.
How many were killed at Dachau?
Though there is no exact number, more than 2lakh people were killed in the Dachau Concentration camp between 1933 to 1945.
How does it feel to walk in Dachau Concentration Camp?
I had learnt about the atrocities of the Holocaust in school. As someone who has watched a dozen documentaries on the Holocaust and “Schindler’s List” movie at least 20 times, I knew a little about what condition prisoners slept and ate. But nothing could have prepared me for what I saw at Dachau.
How is Dachau Concentration Camp is preserved for visitors to see now?
There are permanent exhibitions like the central kitchens, barracks and prison. The temporary exhibitions keep changing.
While you wait at the visitor centre to grab your map or audio device, the vibe is as usual as it would be in any palace. People chatter, talk, smile and laugh. But the moment you see that gate with the infamous slogan, some kind of eerie silence covers the area despite hundreds of tourists.
What are the words on the entrance to Dachau?
When you first arrive at the site, you’re greeted by a large gate with the infamous slogan “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work sets you free”). A real sense of what it must have been like for the prisoners brought there against their will.
Another shocking truth is that this gate was stolen in 2014 and returned to the place in 2017!
Areas of Dachau Concentration camps.
As you walk through the cast iron gate, a wide courtyard appears. This was once filled with humans who wouldn’t know their fate. Many of them may have been dragged there without letting their loved ones. Clueless on if they would ever see the world outside that fence, they must have stood there in reliance for a while. As the days passed by, they would be faded into despair, watching their prison mate getting hanged or beaten with the whip to death.
On one side of the courtyard, you see a sloped roof building that once was the central kitchen. The other side is a gravel court with only one pair of camp barrack buildings out of the 17 pairs. To experience the first horror, you walk towards the kitchen. Behind the central kitchen building lies the actual prison.
The Prisons of Dachau
The tiny ventilators high above the eye level watches you quietly. The sombre silence makes you think twice if any prisoner from inside is trying to peep out the window.
As you step inside, you see larger rooms with bigger windows – For the officers.
Then there is the haunting corridor with worn-out cyan-painted walls from where you can hear the prisoners in vain. Some rooms even have wordings of the prisoners who explain their horrible experiences.
Central Kitchen Area
This is converted into a permanent exhibition area. Mom and I were struck by this hall’s sombre atmosphere and the profound sense of loss. The displays of prisoner uniforms and personal belongings were haunting.
They may even have used this to transport deadbodies of innocent victims
When prisoners are brought to the camp, their belongings must be seized. If anything economically useful was found, surely it was taken away by officers and others. The emotionally precious ones like that family portrait in a wallet, letters were just stored or thrown.
The other areas of the same hall are also an exhibition full of posters and letters issued by Nazis as a political weapon.
The community camp and barracks of Dachau.
A pair of barracks stood there along 17 rows. Once the camp was converted into a memorial site, 16 pairs were removed. The two of these barracks give you an insight into how horribly people who were not considered a prisoner but potential threats were treated.
The barracks were cramped and bleak, with little light or ventilation. I whined, sleeping on my 3′ wide bunker bed in the hostel. But here at the camp, a 3′ wide bed with hardly a 2′ height gap was filled with at least 3 or 4 people!
The Crematorium and Gas Chambers
It is a weird feeling when you walk to the crematorium. The tall trees stand there, creating an alley creating a beautiful boulevard. It is hard to call it “beautiful” because it is the road to the crematorium. The leaves rustle in the wind as if they are telling you a story. The alley ends at a Jewish monument. Trust me, after seeing everything about people getting tormented, these monuments don’t add anything to your emotional experience. A big pile of stones stacked – That is what you feel.
One of the most moving moments of the Dachau Concentration camp visit was when we entered the gas chamber and crematorium. The realization that thousands of people had been murdered in that room was almost too much to bear.
What else to do in Dachau beside visiting the Concentration Camp?
Visiting the Dachau concentration camp can be a deeply moving and difficult experience, and giving yourself time and space to process your thoughts and feelings afterwards is important. Take time to reflect and process your emotions after the visit. So I recommend Lindenallee at Dachau Palace for some peace out time.
A meal at the visitor centre with tasty Thai food wasn’t calming us down. Despite of hot sun, we walked in the neighbourhood. Took a little uphill walk to the Dachau Palace.
Is Dachau Palace worth visiting?
This palace is not be significantly beautiful or huge. You will even find hundreds of other palaces which are architecturally more exquisite.
But their flower-filled gardens and the green corridors of creeper plants feel like heaven to cool down the heat and end that emotional distress caused by your visit to the Dachau Concentration camp.
Is Dachau town good for strolling?
When you think of a town with the world’s bloodiest history, you may expect a boring grey town. But Dachau town is colourful and pretty! Small cosy cafes, corbelled streets, flowers in the balconies – It is hard to guess the city has a dark history.
If you can’t get over the horrid you saw at Dachau, take a train to Munich and lay on the grass beds of Munich’s English garden. The youthful and green atmosphere is surely going to cheer your mind up.
How was your visit to Dachau Concentration Camp? Let us know in the comment section below.