Visits to Dachau

A collection of testimonies, 1933-present

part of the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site website
by Prof. Harold Marcuse (homepage)

page begun Sept. 20, 2004; updated 10/26/08; still under construction [9/14/15]

In my research I have come across many testimonies about people who have visited the Dachau concentration camp and memorial site, from when the former was opened in 1933 to its liberation in 1945, and over the many decades since then. This page provides access to stories I found in books, articles and on the web, and recounted in unpublished sources and interviews I have collected. They are arranged chronologically.

Visits to Dachau, 1933-April 1945 (back to top)

  • May 1942: Abbé Jean Bernard from Luxemburg described a visit in his 1945 memoir Pfarrerblock 25487. Another section of his memoir was made into the 2004 feature film The Ninth Day (Der neunte Tag). My visit page also compares the memoir and film.


Visits to Dachau, May 1945-May 1949 (back to top)

  • May 1945 by Martha Gellhorn, journalist and onetime wife of Ernest Hemingway. Her 1945 article was republished in her book The Face of War (NY: Simon & Shuster, 1959, 1986, 1998); excerpt in "Ohne Mich: Why I Shall Never Return to Germany," Granta, issue 42(Dec. 1992). See also Granta's Gellhorn author biography.
  • May 1, 1945 by Don Rodda. 2002 reminiscence
  • May 7, 1945 by Harold Porter. 1945 letter to his parents. Porter was a medic in the 116th evacuation hospital. He wrote this 5-page description of the camp on the day he arrived on SS stationary he found in the commandant's office.
  • August 1945 by Robert Powers, soldier in the 411th regiment of the 103rd division. See photos on Arthur J. Clayton's web site (scroll down) from Powers' 1994 book: Holocaust: the story of 103d Infantry Division (reprinted 1997, copies at USHMM, LC, and Montgomery County, Texas). Note especially the photo of the adage on the crematorium wall: "Cleaniness here is a duty. Don't forget to wash your hands."
  • Sept. 1945 by Robert Monson, pilot in the 98th Bomb Wing, 9th Air Force. His niece provided me with a copy of his Sept. 18, 1945 letter home.
  • November 1945 by Martin Niemoeller, famous anti-Nazi Protestant pastor who was imprisoned in Dachau from 1940 to 1945. See the summary of the narrative Niemoeller told in sermons in 1945-46 that I wrote in my book Legacies of Dachau.


Visits to Dachau, June 1949-Sept. 1955 (back to top)

  • 1950. In her March 3, 1950 "My Day" column former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wrote that she had attended the annual rally that opened the campaign of the Women's Division of the United Jewish Appeal in New York City. The most interesting speech for her was by Max Lerner: "He had gone to England, France, Italy, Germany, Yugoslavia and, finally, Israel, while he was abroad last summer. He told how he went back to Dachau because he felt it was so easy to forget history. There he had felt a kinship to the dead and in Israel a kinship to the living."


Visits to Dachau, Oct. 1955-Feb. 1960(back to top)


Visits to Dachau, March 1960-Jan. 1965 (back to top)


Visits to Dachau, Feb. 1965-1975 (back to top)


Visits to Dachau, 1976-1990 (back to top)

  • In 1977 Christoph Weis visited the Dachau memorial site. In a Sept. 2005 e-mail he wrote (reprinted with permission), referring to my book, Legacies of Dachau:
    • I was raised in Dachau, where I lived between 1972 and 1990 (I was born 1968). Without a pompous intention, I can say that you are the first person I am aware of who wrote about an important part of my childhood and adolescence and offers me an understanding about my identity and the evolution of my political awareness. The former camp became an early site of childish curiousness in an adult world of secrets, taboos and myths. When I realised that something is 'wrong' with the town, my parents refused to answer the questions I had. With the age of eight or nine I decided to find out and organised a city map while secretly planning my first longer independent trip with a bicycle as the former camp was on the other side of the town (that's how I became a geographer...). When I saw the photographs and even the film at such a young age, without any guidance and suitability for children, I was certainly shocked and scared. But my interest in understanding what exactly happened there grew and still had to be satisfied in a clandestine way, as I was supposed to be too young to understand. I secretly saw the 'Holocaust' TV series when it was released in 1979 and started to read Kogon's 'SS-Staat' not long afterwards. In the 1980s, the beginning of my political thinking revolved around the questions you raised in your book, in particular the public and personal evasion of the past atrocities and how to represent the camp as a site of inhumanity. The ridiculous beautification measures in the camp and the place marketing of the old town, the prevention of the international 'Jugendbegegnungstaette' and my participation in Richardi's NGO 'z.B. Dachau', which organised meetings with French survivors, all shaped my political identity. By the end of the 80s, when the former concentration camp took off as a main tourist destination in Bavaria, I was disgusted about the masses of shorts-wearing noisy tourists, proposals to open up McDonald's branches nearby and the overall commercialisation of the 'KZ-Tourismus'...
      Things might have changed in this town, but the Dachauer myths such as victimisation and ignorance you described were still present in the 1970s and 80s, at least on unofficial levels, when many Dachauer, being among themselves, still dismissed any responsibility or need for preserving the physical remains of the camp as a historical site of barbarism. Unsurprisingly, being a former Dachauer leaves a strain on your soul. Despite the political changes of 1968 and afterwards, my impression is that many of my generation are the first ones who asked their family members unpleasant questions. At least in the case of my family I can say that the 'second guilt', the reluctance of my parents in engaging with the past of their parents, has been directly passed on to me, despite my several efforts to come to terms with the horrific images of piled-up bodies, which will haunt me for the rest of my life. Any attempt to suggest 'Irgendwann muss auch mal Schluss sein' sounds for me not only hollow and politically dangerous, but wrong on a very personal level. Your work on the former KZ after 1945 has reinforced this impression for me very strongly.
  • A 1996 visit to Dachau by Maria Ritter prompted her return to Europe in 1998, which led to her book Return to Dresden (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2004).
    • March 2005 H-Net review by Andy Spencer: "The impetus for committing this attempt at a family history to paper was a visit to Dachau undertaken in 1996 and the inevitable questions that visit prompted: How much did my parents know? Why, as people of faith, did they not protest? Why were the children told so little? Most importantly, Ritter wants to investigate the psychological trauma she herself has suffered as a result of her own ignorance, which cloaks her earliest experiences."


Visits to Dachau, 1991-> (back to top)

  • 2015: "A visit to Dachau: managing the past in the present," by GaËlle Fisher, published at http://historytothepublic.org/a-visit-to-dachau-managing-the-past-in-the-present-2/ on Aug. 31, 2015. Gaelle visited at the beginning of a 12-month stay at the University of Augsburg. She had visited Munich several times before, and was 'much more familiar' with Sachsenhausen (so she presumably spent some time in Berlin).
    As many visitors since teh 1970s, she is suprised by the sign prohibiting eating, smoking, bearing of flags or racist insignia at the site. Still, she too is disturbed by people kissing and taking selfies on a beautiful day (as if a sign would stop that).


prepared for the web by H. Marcuse, 9/20/04; last update: see header
back to top, H. Marcuse's Dachau Concentration Camp & Memorial Site page