to Dachau, 1976-1990 (back to top)
- In 1977 Christoph Weis visited the Dachau memorial site. In a Sept. 2005 e-mail he wrote (reprinted with permission), referring to my book, Legacies of Dachau:
- I was raised in Dachau, where I lived between 1972 and 1990 (I was born 1968). Without a pompous intention, I can say that you are the first person I am aware of who wrote about an important part of my childhood and adolescence and offers me an understanding about my identity and the evolution of my political awareness. The former camp became an early site of childish curiousness in an adult world of secrets, taboos and myths. When I realised that something is 'wrong' with the town, my parents refused to answer the questions I had. With the age of eight or nine I decided to find out and organised a city map while secretly planning my first longer independent trip with a bicycle as the former camp was on the other side of the town (that's how I became a geographer...). When I saw the photographs and even the film at such a young age, without any guidance and suitability for children, I was certainly shocked and scared. But my interest in understanding what exactly happened there grew and still had to be satisfied in a clandestine way, as I was supposed to be too young to understand. I secretly saw the 'Holocaust' TV series when it was released in 1979 and started to read Kogon's 'SS-Staat' not long afterwards. In the 1980s, the beginning of my political thinking revolved around the questions you raised in your book, in particular the public and personal evasion of the past atrocities and how to represent the camp as a site of inhumanity. The ridiculous beautification measures in the camp and the place marketing of the old town, the prevention of the international 'Jugendbegegnungstaette' and my participation in Richardi's NGO 'z.B. Dachau', which organised meetings with French survivors, all shaped my political identity. By the end of the 80s, when the former concentration camp took off as a main tourist destination in Bavaria, I was disgusted about the masses of shorts-wearing noisy tourists, proposals to open up McDonald's branches nearby and the overall commercialisation of the 'KZ-Tourismus'...
Things might have changed in this town, but the Dachauer myths such as victimisation and ignorance you described were still present in the 1970s and 80s, at least on unofficial levels, when many Dachauer, being among themselves, still dismissed any responsibility or need for preserving the physical remains of the camp as a historical site of barbarism. Unsurprisingly, being a former Dachauer leaves a strain on your soul. Despite the political changes of 1968 and afterwards, my impression is that many of my generation are the first ones who asked their family members unpleasant questions. At least in the case of my family I can say that the 'second guilt', the reluctance of my parents in engaging with the past of their parents, has been directly passed on to me, despite my several efforts to come to terms with the horrific images of piled-up bodies, which will haunt me for the rest of my life. Any attempt to suggest 'Irgendwann muss auch mal Schluss sein' sounds for me not only hollow and politically dangerous, but wrong on a very personal level. Your work on the former KZ after 1945 has reinforced this impression for me very strongly.
- A 1996 visit to Dachau by Maria Ritter prompted her
return to Europe in 1998, which led to her book Return to
Dresden (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2004).
2005 H-Net review by Andy Spencer: "The impetus for committing
this attempt at a family history to paper was a visit to Dachau
undertaken in 1996 and the inevitable questions that visit prompted:
How much did my parents know? Why, as people of faith, did they
not protest? Why were the children told so little? Most importantly,
Ritter wants to investigate the psychological trauma she herself
has suffered as a result of her own ignorance, which cloaks her