The Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, just 10 miles from the centre of Munich, stands, like the Holocaust, as a sobering and terrifying reminder of the terror and suffering that occurs in the absence of public safety for all.
More than 200,000 were imprisoned at Dachau and the subsidiary camps over the 12 years it operated – with more than 41,000 murdered.
These, already huge, numbers are swiftly dwarfed by the 6 million Jews that were murdered as part of the Holocaust as a whole – along with 200,000 Roma Gypsies and 200,000 mentally or physically disabled patients. Many other groups including religious and political “dissidents” were also imprisoned, with many dying as a result of their incarceration and maltreatment.
The threat facing the Jewish and these other communities – not just in Germany, but across much of Europe – was existential. The violence and suffering that resulted from the vile Nazi political ideology must certainly be accepted as forming one of mankind’s darkest chapters.
The proximity of Dachau to Munich – just 16km (10 miles) distant – is itself striking. It feels all the more incredulous in today’s world of social media, rolling news, and citizen journalists.
Walking through the gates of Dachau is a sobering experience. The unimaginable terror of those herded into the camp – often from train carriages – seemingly hangs in the air as if it all happened just days ago. It soon becomes apparent that “life” – if we dare call it that – inside a concentration camp was a sick inversion of the world.
It was a world in which the infirmary was in fact a torture chamber, where doctors were there to kill rather than cure and where gas chambers, whether used infrequently or routinely, masqueraded as showers.
The drawings of Georg Tauber – an “asocial” survivor of the camp – offer, in a temporary exhibition at Dachau, the most chilling visual representations of what life in the camp was like from 1941 through to the eventual liberation in 1945. Ovens stuffed with corpses after the coal ran out and very real depictions of the physical and psychological abuse being wrought on an industrial and daily scale.
Dachau – like the other concentration camp memorials – stands as a physical monument to what can happen when evil is allowed to creep unchecked into a society and – at least temporarily – allowed to triumph. It is perhaps one of the most extreme demonstrations of what the absence of public safety for all in a society can look like.
It highlights the ability of the state to do enormous harm when it catastrophically fails to deliver on its fundamental duty: ensuring public safety. It should also serve as a reminder that existential threats can and do exist. It is no good to shy away from them or to deny their existence. Their presence and the threat they pose must be recognised and confronted.
To that end, a visit to Dachau is both a sobering experience and a necessary one. Dachau may have been liberated some 71 years ago, but as we look around the world – whether in Europe, the Middle East or further afield – we must not be naive to the very real threats that exist.
The Centre for Public Safety recently visited the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site while touring a number of European countries and agencies to discuss and reflect upon key issues facing public safety in the UK and Europe. Closer to home, in London, you may wish to consider visiting the Holocaust exhibitions at The Imperial War Museum or The Jewish Museum.