DACHAU: A PERFECT MODEL
Dachau is the show camp of Western Europe. Although Nazi concentration camps dotted the continent, only one small camp on the western side of the Iron Curtain has been preserved with the intent of serving as a major visitor, education, and memorial center. Certainly, some improvements have been made at Natzweiler and Flossenbürg, and some tiny, almost offhand attempts at Neuengamme and Bergen-Belsen. But those efforts came from concerned survivors, not from the government or the German people. The West German government has put all its eggs in the Dachau basket, albeit reluctantly.
Dachau was Himmler's model camp, so why not make it a model museum? For years after the war it languished, dismal and decrepit, until survivors joined together to protest and various religious groups began to erect monuments. If an American tourist or a Western European has toured any camp, it is Dachau. And if American soldiers talked of a camp they had liberated or visited, it was usually Dachau. The American Army liberated Mauthausen, Buchenwald, Dora/ Nordhausen, and Dachau. But only two of those camps now lie in Western Europe. The situation contrasts with the picture in Eastern Europe. True, East Germany has its show camp at Buchenwald and Poland has its at Auschwitz. Yet the East Germans also expended large sums of money to preserve Ravensbriick and Sachsenhausen, and the Poles built important museums at Majdanek and Stutthof. And both countries urge visitors to tour those major camps. Of course, the Poles much prefer that no one travel to the four killing centers, but at least if one manages to locate them, one finds in three instances a significant memorial park with sculpture by reputable artists.
No, the West German government has never been eager to preserve or highlight its camps, not even Dachau. And the people of that gray provincial town preferred that the camp be destroyed. But pressure from survivors mounted, and fifteen years after the war the Germans began work on Dachau. What they have created is a monstrosity. Other nations have some contrasts, some alternatives.
Dachau, only 15 kilometers northwest of Munich, is easy to reach. With