Dachau

West Sussex County Times Article

Prisons were of course in the news over New Year.  Ford is - I regret - no longer in my constituency following boundary changes at the last election.

But naturally when I was texted at the crack of dawn on New Year's Day to tell me that the jail was on fire I was once again concerned about this institution.  The riot and criminal damage were a disgrace and I hope that the most stringent action will be taken against the perpetrators.

However, a rather different form of prison had made an impression on me on New Year's Eve when I visited the former Dachau concentration camp near Munich.

Dachau was set up in 1933 for political prisoners a few weeks after Hitler came to power.  It served as a model for all later concentration camps and as a school of violence for the SS men who commanded it.

In its twelve years of existence over 200,000 people from all over Europe were imprisoned here and in the numerous subsidiary camps.  41,500 of them died until the prison was liberated by American troops in 1945.

Dachau makes for a sobering visit.  It is mostly now open space.  But a prison block, including tiny cells where inmates were forced to stand for days, remains.  So does a housing block with hooks from which prisoners were hung as a form of torture.

A museum charts with stark photographs the chilling story of the camp: of political prisoners interned in ‘preventive custody' as enemies of the state; of others incarcerated for being of the wrong race or sexuality; of brutal torture and beatings; of prisoners being used for horrific medical experiments; of death through disease, malnutrition and execution without trial.

It was the most vivid reminder of why our parents and grandparents fought that war, for the prize not just of territory or self-determination, but of freedom and victory over evil.

In the words of a strangely inspiring memorial at the camp:  "May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933 - 1945 because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defence of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow men."


Document type

Articles

Published

6 January 2011

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