Dachau Gate opens Flood Gates of Memories

“Stolen Dachau Gate Found in Norway”, The Hindu, December 6, 2016.

In India we are used news such as “Missing Deity surfaces in country-X after 2 years”. But never imagined that the gate of an important, secured place in can disappear from Germany and then reappear in Norway after 2 years!

In a city like Mumbai this happens at smaller scale on a daily basis. An entire bazaar in Mumbai is known as ‘Chor Bazaar’ (‘market for stolen goods’ is the correct translation. Chor in Hindi means thief). Following story captures the spirit of Chor Bazaar accurately. Mr X lost a wheel cap of his car (an ornamental metal cover used to hide the nut and bolt used to hold the wheel). Mr X drives down to chor bazaar, parks his car at the entrance, walks down to the line of shops dealing with such items. Shop keeper quotes very, very reasonable price for a wheel cap that will be exact match (to the make and model of the car). Mr X has to wait for a few minutes to get his piece. He walks back to where his car is, the cap fits correctly and he is happy to note that it is an original though a used piece. It is then that he notices that the cap on another wheel is missing! I shall leave out the punch line for you to guess!

The Lost & Found news about Dachau gate in The Hindu (A prominent Daily of India) opened flood gates of memories of my visit to Dachau through that gate on June 24, 2013. The news clip is at the end of this story. I got myself photographed at the Dachau gate (I think my brother Rajkumar clicked the picture) perhaps days or mere weeks before it was stolen.

At the Dachau Gate.

Let me relive that visit to Dachau accompanied by Raja, Kasthuri & Lalitha.

Framed by the Coupe of a train we took on one of our outings during that trip to Germany!

Following is an extract from “Summer of 2013: Germany, Switzerland & Austria”. Travel Diary by K. Sudhakar. (38 pages)

24th June 2013. Dachau

Dachau holds some of the darkest secrets of Hitler’s Germany. This is where the first Concentration camp came up. The facility at Dachau was set up initially to imprison and ‘de-activate’ political opponents and it quickly turned into a concentration camp for Jews and nomads. Dachau is south of Nuremberg and closer to Munich.

Armed with a ‘Bavarian ticket for four’ we are on Platform 12 of Nuremberg Hauptbahnhof (Main Train Station) by 08:45. Crisp paper bags in our hands contain fresh bakery items picked up at bahnhof (train station). We wait for regional train RE 4007 to Munich scheduled to leave at 09:10. This is the third time we are taking the very same train. On our way to Switzerland and then again on our way to Salzburg we took RE 4007 to Munich where we changed trains. This time we get off at Petershausen (15 minutes before Munich) and take line S2 to Dachau. We reach Dachau by 11:10 and take Bus 726 going towards “Saubachsiedlung” and get off at the entrance of the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site — In German it is “Konzentrationslager Gedenkstätte” (shortened as KZ-Gedenkstätte). We buy audio-guides in English. These are listening devices that let you punch in a number and then listen to a pre-recorded audio track. Each spot in that vast area holds a placard with a number. To hear a commentary about that spot one has to punch in that number into the device. This is the standard manner in which museums worldwide manage to give you ‘guide’ service in many languages. This eliminates the need for a physical guide!

It is cold and rainy in Dachau and I am not wearing a sweater. A hot coffee at the restaurant is welcomed. We are at Jourhaus — the entrance GATE to the camp! The very same wrought iron gate was mute witness to 1000s who walked in, unsuspecting of the misery that awaited them. For most death was an angel that put an end to their misery. For very few who survived till the end the allies were the angels.

“Arbeit Macht Frei” announced the inset on the gate. English translation is “Work makes you free”! Outside world believed it was a labour camp! We learn from the exhibition inside, how local Germans who initially thought it to be a labour camp, slowly realised that it was more than a labour camp, and finally stepped inside the gate soon after allies threw the SS out and were horrified to see the dead bodies piled up (stomach churns watching the video clip of people walking through the area covering their noses).

Dachau prison opened in 1933 to house around 200 political prisoners. Its declared capacity was 5000, but is known to have housed 12,000 within its 300 m x 600 m area. The camp was liberated by allies in 1945. Over its 12 years existence, the Dachau administration records reveal intake of around 2,00,000 prisoners and 31,951 deaths. It is generally accepted that the gas chamber built at Dachau was never used. Groups of prisoners to be done to death were actually carted off elsewhere.

The Dachau camp-area is rectangular in shape. Jourhaus is at location-2 (see picture). The C shaped building (shown as a dark band) served as offices. The rectangular area held within the ‘C’ served for roll-call. Today it adorns a specially designed International Memorial art-work (see behind Lalitha in the picture).

Rectangular shapes neatly arranged in 2 columns and covering most of the camp area is where the bunkers stood. The original bunkers are no more. The 2 bunkers in front are rebuilt to give an idea of what existed! The personal living space for each prisoner is no more than a ‘hole in the wall’! Wash basins resemble bird-feeds! I click a picture of a display-picture on the wall that says it all — how people lived!

(L) International memorial Art-work. (R) Living space for prisoners
Picture of a picture of how prisoners actually lived!

We walked down the aisle between two columns of bunkers (or where the bunkers stood). The foundation of each bunker can be seen behind each tree. Far behind is one of the SS watch towers. I click a picture of where bunker 30 once stood!

The aisle between rows of bunkers. (L) SS Watch tower in the distance, (R) Place where Bunker 30 stood

We are now at the far end of the Dachau area. We cross the ‘electric fence and double trench’ that stood between freedom & hell. Rarely must it be that a crematorium can fill anyone with hope. In Dachau Concentration Camp where one enters through Jourhaus the only way out was through the chimney of the crematorium, as smoke (That is how one of the commandants of the camp described it then!)

(R) Electric fence and trench between freedom and hell. (R) Crematorium — another route to hope and peace!

We take the 14:52 RE back to Nuremberg. The 2 hours in train are filled with horrifying thoughts of cruelty that humans are capable of inflicting on other humans! Something to be remembered by all of us!