Planning to visit Dachau Concentration Camp (KZ-Gedenkstätte Dachau) on an upcoming trip to Bavaria or Munich? As one of the most infamous Nazi concentration camps, Dachau is the sort of place you don’t necessarily get excited about going to, but the sort of place you feel you need to go to. Here’s our comprehensive guide on everything you need to know before visiting Dachau Concentration Camp: its history, what you will see, what to expect, practical information, and tips.
Table of Contents
- 1 History of Dachau Concentration Camp
- 2 Is Dachau Concentration Camp Worth Visiting?
- 3 What You Will See at Dachau Concentration Camp
- 4 How to get to Dachau Concentration Camp from Munich
- 5 Practical Information For Visiting Dachau Concentration Camp
- 6 Tips For Visiting Dachau Concentration Camp
- 7 Accommodation for Visiting Dachau Concentration Camp
History of Dachau Concentration Camp
I won’t go into great detail here but it is good to have some background information about Dachau Concentration Camp before heading there.
On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi Party) assumed power in Germany. Shortly thereafter, at a press conference on March 20, 1933, Heinrich Himmler, then the Chief of Police of Munich, announced the establishment of a concentration camp at Dachau, about 16 km (10 miles) northwest of Munich.
Two days later, on 22 March 1933, Dachau Concentration Camp formally opened becoming the first SS concentration camp of the Nazi regime. The camp was located in an abandoned munitions factory from World War I.
Dachau’s initial primary function was to intern political opponents in an effort to consolidate the Nazis’ grip on power.
In the beginning, Dachau’s barracks were designed to hold 5,000 people, and the Nazi regime gradually filled Dachau between 1933 and 1935 with German political prisoners. They had been deemed opponents of the Nazi regime and were mostly communists, socialists, and trade unionists.
Under the oversight of rabid Nazi Theodor Eicke, appointed by Himmler himself, Dachau became the prototype for the layout and operations of later Nazi concentration camps throughout Europe.
Eicke introduced a regime that essentially consisted of the systematic terrorization of prisoners and an attempt to degrade them as thoroughly as possible. Dachau thus became a sort of “murder school” where SS guards and other camp officials went to train to get used to torture and brutal violence.
Some of the most infamous Nazi Concentration camp commandants started out in Dachau, among them Adolf Eichmann, the SS commander who masterminded the Holocaust, and Rudolf Höss, the infamous commandant of Auschwitz.
With the passing of the Nuremberg Race Laws in 1935, which allowed for racial discrimination based on the Nazi policy of “protection of German blood and honor,” the original ostensible purpose of Dachau was modified. It was used to detain any group declared to be an enemy of the Nazi Party.
Deemed as “undesirables” and “asocials”, these groups included Jews, criminals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, politically committed clergymen, Sinti and Roma, homosexuals, prostitutes, and the mentally ill. Each group was forced to don a “badge of shame” of different shapes and colors.
Following the breakout of the Second World War, the camp’s population swelled well beyond its original capacity. The number of Jews interned in Dachau was actually rather small compared to the number of political prisoners, POWs, and detainees from all over Europe who were sent to Dachau.
During World War II, a network of over 100 auxiliary camps was created under the authority of Dachau, mainly in southern Bavaria and Austria.
A large portion of the population at Dachau and these subcamps, bereft of all rights, were subjected to the Third Reich’s huge and draconian program of slave labor to create products to further the German war effort. Others fell victim to SS doctors, who conducted grotesque medical experiments on them.
By 1944, more than 30,000 prisoners lived at Dachau Concentration Camp. Working and living conditions for prisoners were abominable, and disease and sickness ran rampant throughout the camp resulting from the gross inadequacy of sanitation.
Though Dachau was never an extermination camp like Auschwitz-Birkenau or Treblinka, at least 32,000 of the approximate 206,000 inmates who passed through its gates perished there.
However, a large number of people, running into the thousands, were never registered, making it impossible to conclusively determine exactly how many people were imprisoned at Dachau and how many died there.
The death toll at Dachau is attributed to a combination of executions, physical oppression, exhaustion, malnutrition, suicide, and illness.
Dachau remained in operation for 12 years until the SS abandoned the camp on April 28, 1945—nearly the entire length of the Third Reich. Just a day later, Dachau was liberated by the United States Army (elements of the 42nd and 45th Infantry Divisions).
Immediately after World War II, Dachau was used to intern German POWs and (suspected) war criminals, but the grounds were then also used to house thousands of displaced persons.
It wasn’t until 1965 that the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site (KZ Gedenkstätte Dachau) was opened at the behest of the survivors.
Is Dachau Concentration Camp Worth Visiting?
Why should anyone visit Dachau? It’s a good question as some people may wonder why you would want to see a place as morose as this. I can’t speak for everyone else but the following were some of the reasons why I wanted to visit Dachau.
Being a history buff, I possess a thirst for knowledge and a yearning to connect as a human with the events (no matter how revolting) that have taken place at a particular site.
I also personally feel that visiting somber historic sites is not only crucial to understanding history but also a warning to humans not to repeat the horrors of the past. “It’s not about remembering what happened, it’s about never forgetting it.”
While you can certainly read about the Dachau Concentration Camp’s history and feel impacted by what you are learning, there is a visceral empathy that only comes from visiting the memorial site in person.
Would I visit Dachau again? Probably not but I think that visiting Dachau is worthwhile and everyone ought to visit at least once in their lifetime.
What You Will See at Dachau Concentration Camp
1. The Gatehouse and the Front Gate
Shortly after passing by the visitor’s center, you walk up the path toward the Dachau Concentration Camp gatehouse. Officially known as the Jourhaus, this two-story building was the only entrance and exit from the camp when it was in use.
The gatehouse was home to the guards’ rooms and the offices of the departments which were responsible for the day-to-day running of the camp.
You enter the Dachau Concentration Camp like a prisoner of Hitler’s Reich, through the infamous wrought-iron gates welded into the front gatehouse.
They bear the infamous, taunting slogan personally chosen by Theodor Eicke, father of the SS concentration camp system: “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work Sets You Free”) – a diabolical irony in the place where so many people were worked to death.
2. Roll Call Yard
Day in and day out, regardless of the weather, well-being, and age, Dachau’s inmates formed up in this sprawling gravel yard at dawn for roll call. In the evening, after ten or more hours of excruciating labor, the procedure was repeated.
In the roll-call yard, prisoners stood for an hour or more waiting to be counted, the number of persons counted and reported had to match the official figure. If there were any cases of attempted escape, they were made to stand longer.
Participation in the roll call was mandatory and failure to do so was punishable by death. The roll call yard was also where the SS conducted military drills which were part of the agenda of humiliation.
3. International Monument
The International Monument is one of the most poignant places you’ll see in Dachau. It was designed in 1968 by Nandor Glid, a Yugoslavian Jew who himself was persecuted by the Nazis in his home country.
It shows the desperation of suicidal prisoners and depicts emaciated human bodies caught in barbed wire.
The monument serves as a grim reminder of Nazi atrocities. Towards the relief monument’s end, there is an urn with the ashes of unknown prisoners, and behind it are the words “Never Again,” an exhortation written in French, Yiddish, English, German and Russian.
4. The Maintenance Building (Main Permanent Exhibition)
The former maintenance building houses the main exhibition of the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. Set over the course of 13 rooms, it chronologically lays out the details of the concentration camp and the story of the site since its liberation in 1945.
The exhibition relies chiefly on texts and photos displayed on information panels and there’s A LOT of information to be gleaned here.
Before touring the rooms, consider checking out the museum’s powerful 22-minute documentary film, a sobering, graphic, and sometimes grisly account of the ascent of the Nazi Party and the atrocities committed at the camp. It is broadcast in the auditorium in the former maintenance building and is shown in English at 10:15, 11:45, and 14:00.
Rooms 1 & 2 provide an overview of the Nazi concentration camp system. Some of these were concentration camps like Dachau and Stutthof while others were extermination camps like Treblinka and Auschwitz, built with the goal of executing people on a mass scale.
These rooms also chronicle the failure of the Weimar Republic setting the catalyst for the rise of the Nazi Party.
Rooms 3-6 cover the early years of the Dachau Concentration Camp. Particularly noteworthy are the Shunt Room and the erstwhile prisoner baths, both of which have been largely preserved in their original condition.
The Shunt Room was originally the room where the inmates were taken on arrival by the SS to be “processed” (i.e. registered, stripped naked, and divested of their possessions). Based on their supposed transgressions, they were yelled at, belittled, and sent off to hard labor.
New arrivals at Dachau were also never informed how long they would be imprisoned, a factor that weakened their morale and left them more susceptible to the “rehabilitation” that lay ahead.
Today, display cases are located where the guards’ desks once were, containing original personal artifacts such as combs, watches, passports, photos, postcards, and religious embroideries of former prisoners.
The prisoner baths were where the new arrivals had their heads and bodies shaved, and were disinfected. They were also an area where the SS meted out harsh punishments for violating camp regulations.
Rooms 7-12 document the Dachau Concentration Camp through World War II. With the beginning of the conflict, wartime necessities reshaped life and death in the Dachau concentration camp in numerous ways.
During the war, Dachau’s prisoner population swelled and it became more of a dumping ground for foreigners and POWs. The already shocking level of brutality and degradation in place increased dramatically.
The section on medical experiments by Nazi doctors is particularly gruesome. Prisoners were used as human guinea pigs for war-related medical experiments on human tolerance for air pressure, hypothermia, seawater, biological agents like malaria, and various drugs with unknown effects.
Room 13 focuses on the chain of events at Dachau Concentration Camp after its liberation in 1945. You also learn about how the memorial site came to fruition.
At the end of the main exhibition is the Memorial Room which is home to more than 100 commemorative plaques and stones honoring victims of the Dachau Concentration Camp.
5. Camp Prison
Located behind the old maintenance building, the camp prison was a complex of solitary confinement prison cells. It was where the SS meted out harsh punishments on insubordinate prisoners and held others awaiting executions.
Among the so-called rebellious inmates incarcerated in the Dachau Camp Prison was Georg Elser, the German carpenter who nearly assassinated Hitler with a homemade bomb on 8 November 1939 at the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich. He was executed here in April 1945, just days before the end of World War II.
The camp prison quickly became a center of terror gaining the nickname the “bunker.” The SS even had four standing cells (a mere 80 cm x 80 cm) installed there and tortured inmates by forcing them to stay on their feet for days at a time.
The exhibits at the prison focus on the inmates and the SS guards who worked at Dachau. You are also accorded the chance to listen to some inmates’ testimonies.
The corridor walls in the prison have not been repainted, and the endless rows of cells ooze a despondent air. In some of the cells, slide projections on the walls feature quotes from survivors detailing the terrors of the “bunker.”
The SS had installed a complex of 34 barracks in the Dachau Concentration Camp. The entire complex was demolished in 1964 and the two structures that stand today are replicas erected in 1965.
The positions of the other 32 barracks are now a vast empty expanse with the foundations of the rows of former barracks merely indicated by concrete stone markers filled with gravel. These are lined up on both sides of the central avenue lined with poplar trees.
Take a look inside to get an idea of what sleeping and living conditions were like in Dachau. The interior of each barrack was divided into five rooms, each containing two rows of wooden bunks.
The tiny bunks are little more than pallets and in fact, look more like mortuary cabinets. The barracks were initially designed to hold 200 persons each but in the latter stages of World War II, they were inundated with up to 2,000 prisoners.
The appalling overcrowding within the barracks came to a head in December 1944 when a typhus epidemic took thousands of lives.
7. Camp Fence
To prevent prisoners from escaping, the Dachau Concentration Camp was surrounded in the north, east, and south by a high-voltage barbed-wire fence. Guard towers were built into various spaces in the fence and were manned around the clock by SS officers with machine guns.
After the liberation of Dachau Concentration Camp, the camp fence was destroyed. However, two sections of the barbed-wire fence and a guard tower were fully reconstructed when the site became a memorial.
Stepping onto the grass area was considered an act of attempted escape which resulted in the prisoner being shot to death. Sometimes, sadistic guards would shove inmates onto the grass strip just so they “had an excuse” to gun them down.
As there was no discernible system to determine who would get out of Dachau or when it isn’t surprising that some of the prisoners sought a suicidal way out. They deliberately entered the grass area knowing that an immediate headshot would ensue from any of the surrounding watch towers.
8. The Crematoriums and the Gas Chamber
Located at the back of the camp beyond the camp fence and sheltered by trees is the creepiest part of the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site – the crematoriums and the gas chamber.
Originally, a small wooden crematorium was used to dispose of the inmates that died in the Dachau Concentration Camp. As the inmate population soared and war waged, the original crematorium couldn’t keep up with demand, and in 1942 a larger crematorium (“Barrack X”) with four furnaces was built.
The larger crematorium building is also home to the notorious gas chamber. It was originally disguised as a shower room (the fittings are gone now) and worked on the same principle of subterfuge as the much larger one at Auschwitz.
Hitherto, there is no credible evidence that the Dachau gas chamber was ever put to use for mass murder. Some historians opine that a few people were killed in it experimentally but the jury’s still out on that one.
Nevertheless, you yourself feel a strong sense of malaise as you saunter through the gas chamber. The somber area is further enhanced by the room with the ovens which lie ahead of the gas chamber.
The four coal-fired brick ovens with metal stretchers were in operation almost all day and night due to a large number of deaths at the camp.
9. Religious Memorials
At the far end of the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, in space that once housed the camp vegetable garden, you’ll come across some of the most unique parts of Dachau – the various religious memorials erected around the site.
Each of the religious memorials is dedicated to various individuals or groups persecuted and killed at Dachau. These include the Jewish Memorial, Carmelite Convent, Russian Orthodox Chapel, Protestant Church of Reconciliation, and Mortal Agony of Christ Chapel.
The religious memorials are really the only place within the Dachau Concentration Camp site that offer emotional solace and give visitors the chance to meditate and pray.
They are all unique in design but the most striking ones are the Mortal Agony of Christ Chapel and the Jewish Memorial.
How to get to Dachau Concentration Camp from Munich
By Public Transport
Getting to Dachau Concentration Camp from Munich by public transport is extremely convenient and straightforward. From Munich, take the regional S-Bahn S2 train towards Petershausen and get off at Dachau Station (about 21 minutes by train from Munich Central Station).
From Dachau Station take bus 726 towards Saubachsiedlung and get off at the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site (KZ-Gedenkstätte).
The drive to Dachau Concentration Camp from Munich takes about 30 minutes. Parking is available in the car park next to the memorial on Alte Römerstraße 73. It costs 3 EUR/day (cash only).
With a Guided Tour
If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of public transportation on your own or you want to get more out of your visit by having a guide, this small group Dachau Memorial Site Guided Tour covers transport to and from Munich.
Practical Information For Visiting Dachau Concentration Camp
1. What are the opening hours of the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site?
The Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site is open daily from 09:00-17:00. It is closed on December 24th.
2. How much does it cost to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site?
The entrance to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site is completely free and requires no advance tickets or reservations.
3. Do you need a guide to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site?
There’s no prerequisite to having a guide to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site.
Upon entry, you can get a map at the visitor center you’re free to investigate the grounds on your own. There are copious information panels and screens around the memorial site to help you understand what it is you’re seeing.
However, if you want to make sure you properly understand the back history of what you’re seeing at Dachau and exactly how it fits into the bigger picture, I certainly recommend taking a guided tour.
Tour guides not only make the trip to Dachau more relatable, and more impactful but also give additional insight that you won’t find elsewhere.
A Dachau guided tour can be arranged from Munich or you can take a guided tour provided by the memorial site. The guided tours of the Dachau Concentration Camp in English take place daily at 11:00 and 13:00. Tours last 2.5 hours.
Tickets for the Dachau guided tours cost 4 EUR and they can be purchased at the information desk of the Visitors’ Center. Tickets for the tour are sold on a first-come, first-served basis (only 30 slots).
Keep in mind that tickets for the Dachau guided tours cannot be reserved online and should be purchased at least 30 minutes before the start of a tour.
You can also rent an audio guide for a fee (4.50 EUR) at the information desk of the Visitors’ Center.
4. How long does it take to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site?
The Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site is quite large and spread out. It isn’t the sort of place you should rush around, snap photos, and leave.
There’s also a lot of information to take in and process so realistically you should allow yourself about 4-5 hours to fully tour the camp and memorial site.
If your time is limited, you should prioritize and focus on your key areas of interest.
5. Is there a dress code at the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site?
There is no specific “dress code” at Dachau and you should dress according to the weather since you’ll spend a lot of your time outside.
However, given the history of the place, it is definitely recommended that you dress in a manner befitting a place of this nature.
6. Are children allowed at Dachau?
There’s no age restriction policy for visiting the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site and it’s at the parents’ discretion whether they want to bring their kids or not. However, due to the graphic nature of many of the displays, it is advised that children under 12 not visit.
The Dachau documentary film shown in the former maintenance building has a minimum age requirement of 12. The minimum age for taking a Dachau guided tour is 13.
7. What are the food options at the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site?
The Visitors’ Center is home to a cafeteria where you can get refreshments, snacks, and hot meals. It is open daily from 09:00-17:00.
8. Is there luggage storage at the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site?
No. There is no option to store luggage and there are no lockers either.
9. Are there restrooms at the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site?
There are toilets in the Visitors’ Center. Just look for the “WC” signs.
10. Is the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site wheelchair accessible?
Yes, the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site is accessible by wheelchair with some minor exceptions.
11. Are dogs allowed at the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site?
No. Dogs are forbidden to enter the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site with the exception of guide dogs for the blind and “service dogs” for assistance to people with disabilities.
Tips For Visiting Dachau Concentration Camp
Here are some things you need to know before you visit the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site.
1. Be ready for lots of walking and standing
The Dachau Concentration Camp covers a large area and the various buildings are spaced out. There are few places to sit and take a breather.
Thus, be prepared for a long walk and make sure you wear comfortable walking shoes.
2. Go with an intent to learn when you visit Dachau
You see, a minor problem with Dachau is that it has become a must-see on the bucket list of visitors to Munich and many people go to Dachau just for the sake of saying they have been there instead of doing it to learn about the atrocities that took place there.
3. If you’re planning to visit Dachau in the summer, bring a water bottle, hat, and sunscreen
When I was there in August, it was VERY hot. There’s also little shade out in the open.
4. Mind Your Volume and Your Demeanor
There are places, for example, the crematorium in Dachau, where silence is required. You are legitimately walking through a room with ovens where people were cremated. Out of respect for the victims, silence is necessary.
Finally, I implore you not to take Dachau selfies. During my visit to Dachau, I did encounter a couple posed for snaps arm in arm with big wide grins in front of the infamous gate. It was irreverent and unacceptable. Don’t be those people.
Accommodation for Visiting Dachau Concentration Camp
Munich: Hotel Torbräu, an excellent choice in the historic Old Town of Munich
Dachau: AMEDIA Hotel & Suites Dachau, a fantastic option in the town of Dachau, 15 minutes on foot from the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site
Now, what do you think? Is visiting Dachau Concentration Camp on your mind? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
Hello there, fellow globetrotters! I’m Mihir, a passionate travel blogger with an insatiable wanderlust. My journey across the world is fueled by curiosity and a hunger for unique experiences. As a travel writer, photographer, and adventurer, I’ve explored more than 35 countries, aiming to provide readers with a distinctive glimpse of our diverse world. Join me as I blend captivating storytelling with stunning visuals, guiding you through hidden gems and cultural treasures. Besides traveling, my other loves are my beloved cats, architecture, art, craft beer, classic movies, history, and Australian Rules Football (Go Dons!).