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Michele Belloni

Dachau (Germany)


“The Mighty And The Helpless” […] The green barrack buildings could be distinguished through the barbed wire. Even at a distance you could see that all was meticulously clean; the merest fragment of litter was absent. An air of foreboding permeated the place – frightful, cold as death. Never before have I experienced an atmosphere so uncompromisingly dangerous or so friendly hostile…

Foreword: everything I write in this article, albeit short and quick, is not conditioned by religious beliefs.

Who ever is near Münich in Bavaria, between a sausage and a beer, you might like to visit Dachau, a little bavarian town, sadly notorious for hosting one of the most prolific concentration camps of World War II.

As I approached the entrance I noticed a girl who, under the wonderful cherry blossoms silhouetted against a leaden sky ready to rain, takes notes on her smartphone while ignoring everything that happens around her.

I look at the her, photograph her, and I approach the entrance of the camp: a feeling of desolation grips me, I lift my Leica and point it toward the gate that contains the phrase: “Arbeit Macht Frei”, which means “Work makes you free.”

Modern art remembering the victims of this human atrocity is scattered everywhere, inside the camp. Wreaths of flowers memorial and the usual redundant data: 1933-1945. I approach the sheds used as dormitories and a very black raven gives me a welcome fly past, as if to recall the evil that was generated in this place.

I avoid it, and as soon as its beating wings vanish I reopen my eyes and find myself in front of two dilapidated doors that invite me maliciously to take a look inside. I look inside, and the first two rooms are the shared bathrooms where prisoners carried out their vital functions and where you could wash yourself almost like pigeons, all together in communal fountains.

Wooden bunks, looking really uncomfortable, where the prisoners were trying to rest between forced labor and other things. It is said that from the outside, the camp looked cozy, with roofs of gleaming emerald green, always in perfect order and clean. No one suspected what was really going on in there.
Only by entering the “Krematorium“, the area of so-called showers, the gas chambers and crematoria, the kind of end which awaited the detainees. Over 200,000 prisoners were kept in Dachau and an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 deaths.

The area is surrounded by towers where nazi guards fired at on sight to those who approached, even just out of curiosity. Many prisoners, exhausted by the living conditions, voluntarily ran into the kill zone.

Past the wooden bridge and the iron gate with its considerable weight, we find ourselves in a street with a small posthumous church of soviet origin to remember some of the victims; to follow, there is a statue in memory of the Jews who lost their lives in this place.

A place that extends itself horizontally, with a single door to hell. In the first room on the left is a sign clearly explaining to the deportees what would happen to them in the alleged showers. At the right side the furnace room for the cremation of the corpses and then the place where the dead bodies were piled up waiting to be burned.

Stand inside a gas chamber, looking at the holes from the roof and a rose on the ground with a candle, squeeze the heart, esophagus and trachea. You can’t breathe, lacking the rationality to explain certain inhumane acts. I’m not saying anything new, only direct experience of a hellish place, made gentle by the creation within it of places of worship to remember the jewish victims and, as the guides advise against visiting the children because of the shock that you could suffer, I would say that from an early age everyone should be aware of the crimes committed against humanity, generating an awareness for better adults tomorrow.

Shooting in this kind of places can be really emotional and you can shed a tear trying to identify yourself with those people. You need a steady hand, a silent camera and focused mind.

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