Sunday, September 9, 2007
Last week my son and I were away for a few days in Bavaria, a trip we'd planned about a year ago as a treat. We stayed in a Munich Youth Hostel (very different from the Youth Hostels of my recollection from the 1950s) and walked miles around the city, dropping off at various watering-holes for a beer.
On our second day we took the train to Dachau, a small, pretty, pleasing and provincial town (see image on right), reminiscent of Hemel Hempstead or Bromsgrove, and the site of the concentration camp (image on left shows one of the camp watch-towers overlooking the roll-call assembly area).
It was a sombre experience, the moreso because of the nearness of the camp to the town: there is nothing isolated about the camp now, and there can have been nothing isolated about it in the 1940s. Indeed, prisoners were marched from the station to the camp entrance along suburban roads, past the same bus stops (presumably) as we stopped at on our short commute there.
It is a tribute to the German people that they have preserved the camp as a memorial, many of its original features being still intact, and with some sensitive reconstruction. There is a wealth of information on display, and several guided tours each day. My son and I spent just over three hours wandering round. The site is roughly the size of a small retail park, and housed 63,000 people in 38 barrack-rooms.
I imagine the question most foreign visitors ask themselves is, "Could it have happened at home?", and my own answer would almost certainly have to be "I don't know, but I think it might".