Yes, Dachau, the first major concentration camp opened by the Nazis.
As a futurist visiting Dachau, I had a similar viewpoint that I touched upon in the recent post on Berlin: how looking back at awful events can help us today and that the awful events of today, when taken in a historical perspective, are not as bad as we think they might be. So many people I talk to are depressed and nervous about the direction of the world today. While I think that there will most definitely be rough and turbulent times ahead, I am optimistic about the future when looking 10, 20 and 30 years out.
As I have written in â€˜Blog Originsâ€™ and am writing in my book, I believe that humanity will have the opportunity to take our collective next step in the decades ahead. To be able to do so we must fully come to terms with where we have failed in the past so that we can prepare ourselves for the opportunity that lies ahead.
Last week I visited Dachau, which is in a suburb of Munich. Here are the facts:
-it opened in 1933 and remained a concentration camp until liberation in 1945
-during that 12 year period approximately 206,000 people entered the camp
-the camp was first set up as a place for political enemies of the state after Hitler had a law passed through the legislature allowing him to hold anyone in â€˜protective custodyâ€™ without the due process of the courts
-from 1945 until 1964 it remained a refugee housing camp due to the extreme post WWII housing shortage.
-Dachau was the camp that Himmler and his SS used as the model for all other camps in terms of organizational structure
-Dachau was not one of the major extermination camps; many people died there, but it was not the killing factory that other camps were.
Today, Dachau is a memorial and a museum run by the German government. There is a fairly large museum building that tells the story of the camp. One can also walk around the grounds, see a reconstructed barracks building, walk the grounds, see the memorial churches and temple and then tour the crematorium and gas chambers. What remains is about a fourth of the area that existed during the war, due to suburban encroachment.
The overall experience of the visit is incredibly powerful. I was extremely moved when standing in the yard where the inmates had to stand every day for role call. The exhibits all point out the horror of manâ€™s inhumanity to man. It is a true look at the dark side of humanity. To some degree every visitor to Dachau leaves with a better understanding of what intolerance and evil can unleash and the death and horror that results.
So, the day I visited there must have been several thousand visitors. These visitors were multi-national, multi-ethnic, multi-racial and all ages from infants to the elderly. It seemed as though a third to half of all visitors were using the audio guides and taking the hours it took for the full tour. Since there is no admission, it is probably hard to know exactly the number of people who visit Dachau in a year [though I did email the governmental agency in charge of managing the memorial asking this question; no response], but if you assume peak visitation in the summer and lower attendance for the rest of the year, it still means that in the course of one year there are probably more people visiting Dachau than were ever kept there as inmates. This means that hundreds of thousands of people from all around the world have and are experiencing the powerful lessons that Dachau teaches us about evil, persecution based on religion and beliefs and what can happen when leaders are given powers to act on such beliefs.
The phrase â€œNever againâ€ took on a much larger meaning for me after my visit to Dachau, and I know it does for most of those that visit. Letâ€™s hope that every day; thousands of people from all around the world also learn that our dark side has already created enough horror. We must face the future with this lesson clearly in mind.