Visiting Dachau , a tribute to the past.


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As I said in a previous post, my daughter and I visited Dachau Concentration Camp Site on our trip to Münich, and I hinted at the fact that I felt disappointed. It took me almost two weeks and a long conversation with my friend Liliane to figure out exactly what bothered me on the site.
Everything at Dachau Concentration camp has been either destroyed or renovated. Brand new bunk beds in one of the remaining barracks, clean crematories, even the hooks where they would hang prisoners look like they’ve just been put there.
I can understand that the place could not be kept the way it was and had to be cleaned up. But did it have to be renovated, refurbished?
The effect on the visitor, or was it only on me? is that one feels no emotions. It is interesting of course, but I visited the site as just another museum. That is not the way it should be. And I don’t think that it is what the people who organised the Memorial had in mind.

Back in April, we went to London and visited the London at war museum, where I felt more involved, moved and interested than I did at Dachau. Everything there was fabricated, from the Tube station where Londoners took refuge during the bombardments to the room in which, when you opened the door, you could hear the sound of bombings. Guess what! I did not have the nerve to get in.
Another great museum was Anne Frank’s House in Amsterdam. Although it has not been furnished or reconstituted the way it used to be at the time of the war, it was extremely moving.

Another thing that bothered me was the fact that there are on the site several religious memorials to the victims. There’s a Jewish monument, an Orthodox chapel, Carmelites with their shop right outside the site, and more that I haven’t seen.
Couldn’t the living share a monument? I have seen this done in airports, where all religions share a common space. But obviously they couldn’t do it in Dachau.

Lots of young people visit the site, but is Dachau Concentration Camp site delivering the message it is meant to? I don’t think so.


4 thoughts on “Visiting Dachau , a tribute to the past.

  1. Hi, Claude. A chilling observation–in the sense that for a concentration camp to have new, freshened-up decor (that would seem almost the exact word) violates the whole notion of the place. One couldn’t expect it to be as horrible as it probably was–that would also violate the idea of a museum, and estrange or even repel anyone. (How could a concentration camp museum be other than a paradox, in fact.) So it undermines the purpose, which is, to “attract visitors” and then to memorialize the horribleness. Yet one couldn’t do that if it were truly horrible (no one would come, etc)

    So the creators of the museum had a difficult task, to recreate the horribleness without being horrible–which, in a historic monument is nearly inconceivable–

    It would require a somewhat aestheticized or acceptable horribleness–but one that conveys it at least secondarily. Inauthenticity would be inevitable–yet shouldn’t it at least reproduce the growing antiquity and thus protect some degree of the literal existence of the place —

    I would rather not go to such a place myself–but I’m American–and the holocaust is either ghastly–or impossible to contemplate. the movies of the survivors’ memories and thoughts say something–but I don’t watch so much


  2. In my first look at the photo, before I read your commentary, I thought, “Wha-a-a-a-a-t?” I doubt the barracks at Dachau ever looked that polished and new. Would the Nazis have bothered with varnish? On the other hand, the museum must be kept up so not to crumble – a narrow path for the curators to navigate.

  3. Yes, Modersohn and Ronni, I quite agree that it is a narrow way to navigate. But I would have preferred no furnitures and photos of the furniture and people on the wall. I think it would have been more effective than brand-new bunk beds.

    As for not going to visit, Modersohn, yes, the holocaust is ghastly, but I do think it’s important to go and visit. In French we call this Devoir de mémoire, a duty towards memory?

  4. I was just watching the 60 year anniversary at Hiroshima on the TV today. That is also ‘cleaned up’, but with more display articles. Nevertheless, all these places have the character of shrines rather than museums; I found the London museum rather garish. Your mileage may vary.

    Remembrance happens inside the head anyway, I – for one – do not need exact visual stimuli, maybe I’m squeamish. When the day arrives that we can visit Abu Ghraib and Guatanamo Bay they will probably be asceptic too.


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