The meaning of this phrase is “WORK SETS YOU FREE”. It is ironic to see this at the entrance of Dachau Concentration camp!
We were to reach Munich to start our Alpine Holiday. We decided to reach there a day early as I thought that we must visit the Dachau Concentration Camp, 15 km from Munich. Auschwitz may be the most known of the camps but Dachau was the first camp started in 1933. Since these events are 70 plus years old, I have shared a brief history of the camp and this concept in general. Our tour guide had pointed out that since this is not a picnic spot we should refrain to pose for the photos, we could of course take as many photos! When he was explaining the details, there were goose bumps on body and by the time the tour was done we were mentally drained.
Although Dachau was initially established to hold political prisoners of the Third Reich, only a minority of whom were Jews, Dachau soon grew to hold a large and diverse population of people targeted by the Nazis. Under the oversight of Nazi Theodor Eicke, Dachau became a model concentration camp, a place where SS guards and other camp officials went to train.
The “new” camp, completed in mid-1938, was composed of 32 barracks and was designed to hold 6,000 prisoners; however, the camp population was usually grossly over that number. Electrified fences were installed and seven watchtowers were placed around the camp. At the entrance of Dachau was placed a gate topped with the infamous phrase, “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work Sets You Free”). Since it was concentration and not death camp there were no gas chambers till 1942. 31000 plus people were still killed here though it was a death camp, mostly, Jews!
WALL SHOWING SOME OF THE NAMES OF WHO DIED!
Throughout the Holocaust, several concentration and death camps facilitated forced medical experiments on their prisoners. Dachau was no exception to this policy. The medical experiments conducted at Dachau were ostensibly aimed at improving military survival rates and bettering medical technology for German civilians. These experiments were usually exceptionally painful and unneeded. For example, Nazi Dr. Sigmund Rascher subjected some prisoners to high altitude experiments using pressure chambers, while he forced others to undergo freezing experiments so that their reactions to hypothermia could be observed. Still other prisoners were forced to drink saltwater during efforts to determine its drinkability. Nazi Dr. Claus Schilling hoped to create a vaccine for malaria and thus injected over a thousand prisoners with the disease. Other prisoners at Dachau were experimented on with tuberculosis.
Initially, political opponents were kept there and slowly as Nazis became stronger, they brought Jews, Homosexuals, thieves and more people. These people were used for producing items for the war machine. About 30 sub camps were created around Dachau to help increase production. Though people were used for purpose of slave labor, many were asked to stand at attention in freezing conditions for hours together and of course many died.
Was the visit to Dachau worth it! Of course it was! Such visits brings humans back to reality of what has happened not in too distant past! And show cases to them what can happen in future! The German nation has taken the hit on the chin and have developed these areas as visiting places, so that those who want to understand such horrible events, will know what happened. They have not hidden their warts! The German education system has ensured that their children visit at least one such camp as a part of curriculum to expose them to this aspect of life. I am sure they must be learning what not to do in life!
Human mind is impossible to fathom. We have known of so many sacrifices made by humans to save others’ lives at the cost of their own lives. How can the humans become so cold blooded as to kill people just because they have different religion, different sexual orientation? How humans could be used as Guinea pigs to perform some medical experiments, though sure deaths were known! When millions were killed in Gas Chambers not even one person thought that this should be stopped! No one thought they should protest! Was that mass hysteria? Was it mass fear of authority?
This brings me to my favorite subject, is this possible in today’s times of relentless social media? I think this would be impossible in today’s times. If you look at the world today, North Korea is leading in such acts followed by some countries. But even strongly autocratic countries like China and to some extent Russia are not able to hide their follies because of internet. With Julian Assange’s of this world, it is going to be even more difficult for governments to hide things. In today’s world of “breaking news”, information is available to you if you have some communication device in your hand. You don’t have an option! News can spread real fast, probably faster than nuclear chain reaction!
So let’s pray to Him that generations after us do not have a chance to visit Dachau’s (created by later generations) ever hence they should never be allowed to happen! I always feel that in Indian reference, it is important to see Taj Mahal and Nainital but it is equally important to visit Jalianwalla Baug! This is our reality check!