Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Dachau Concentration Camp

Hey teaching friends, have you read Prisoner B-3087 or Night or Number the Stars or The Diary of Anne Frank?  You probably have a good idea of what these books have in common, besides being powerful teaching tools- but why am I writing about them?  Good question.

Right now the holocaust is of special interest to me because my husband and I recently traveled to Munich, Germany.  While we were there we visited Dachau Concentration Camp.  Holy cow.  What an experience.  Was this my first choice in places to visit?  No.  "What about a beer tour?" I tried to convince myself.  But as the days ticked by, I realized I couldn't be here and not go.  A place with so much history and so much to learn should be visited.  Should be shared.  And so here it is. 

Before traveling to Germany, I finished reading the book Prisoner B-3087.  This book has an amazingly powerful message and is a great read aloud for the classroom or for book clubs.  Reading the book and then traveling to some of the places mentioned really brought the main
character, Yanek's, story to life.  Dachau (pronounced Da-how) is the final concentration camp that Yanek is sent to, before being freed by US soldiers.  When you walk in, you're "welcomed" with a sign over the gate that states, "Arbeith macht frei" (work makes you free).  Yanek talks about seeing this sign as he enters a concentration camp.

During World War II, there were as many as 2,000 prisoners in one of the 30 barracks at Dachau.  You can see just one the barracks in the picture below. Prisoners would share the bunks with so many people that they had to lay bunched together on their sides. 

The "roll call" field in front of the barracks.
Bunks in the barracks.
Seeing the places that you've read about really brings it all to life.  

And wow is it scary.  

This is a shower room that was also used as a gas chamber.  The room I was standing in was the undressing room where prisoners would have to undress, not knowing if they were walking into a shower room or a gas chamber.  "Brausebad" above the door means "shower room" but the Nazis were known for playing tricks on their prisoners. 

From the shower room, you walk into another room, the crematorium.

I have learned so much this year- but I think that traveling here really showed me how important it is to see history.  I knew a lot about the holocaust, had read a lot, and had heard many stories- but being at Dachau enabled me to understand so much more.  It made me think about history as a teacher.  How important field trips are, how much learning can be done outside of books, lessons, and worksheets.  I loved this quote I found towards the end of our time at Dachau.

Each of us today is shaping the background history of tomorrow.

History is powerful and I can already think of so many things I want to share with my little learners.  So many lessons and messages.  How are you shaping the history of tomorrow? 

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