Just the idea of a concentration camp makes most adults shudder. So why should you visit with your kids? For us it was a no-brainer. Our children were 12 and 9 and we knew we would approach it with their ages in mind. Remembering the recent historical past in an age appropriate way was our goal.
We stopped in Munich for a few days and decided as a family that we would visit Dachau. My little one’s limited understanding of the atrocities of World War II were enough to make her a little nervous. Our 12 year old had read the Diary of Anne Frank, watched The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and several other war related movies. She had a certain fascination with the war that both Keith and I remember having at roughly the same age.
So approaching Dachau would be based on their understanding of what had transpired so many years ago. We weren’t going to over emphasize anything that would upset the kids, they didn’t need to study the horrific photos to understand the gravity of where we were.
We exited the short train ride from Munich to Dachau and waited for the bus to take us to the camp. As the bus made its way towards the camp, my 12 year old asked if people lived this close to the camp during the war. Sadly, the answer we would find out once inside was Yes! People had lived right in this town, close to the camp. What they were told or what they were led to believe or what they chose to not believe is up for debate. But for a 12 year old to ask this question speaks volumes. How could this happen in plain sight?
Without a strong understanding of WWII my younger one could walk through the camp without overthinking what had taken place. That might sound superficial but we didn’t need to tell her to be somber or reflective. It was a general mood the moment you walked through the gate. She understood the magnitude without needing to visually see or hear what had taken place within these walls. The rest of us listened to the walking tour through our head set, read the plaques throughout the camp and stopped to read through the incredible permanent exhibition at the memorial site. It was overwhelmingly emotional.
An adult can not understand how this could happen. A thinking person can not begin to process these atrocities. The incredible tragedy. A child can’t even wrap their head around most of this. But a visit to this concentration camp opened a dialogue with both of our children on different levels. Learning about history, learning what led to this, how this happened and how we can insure that this never happens again is potentially one of the benefits for visiting.
We travel with our children for all sorts of reasons. There is the fun component to travel and there is a serious side. We hope that they always take away something from everywhere we visit. Regardless of how young or perhaps not well versed on a subject, there is still the ability to learn and put things into their own perspective. The true benefit of travel.
How to get there? A short 25 minute train ride (S2) from Munich’s Central train station (Hauptbahnhof). Once you exit the train, you will wait/board the 726 towards Saubachsiedlung to the entrance of the Memorial site. This is a regular bus that takes people around Dachau, so it does make other stops. It was pretty crowded, standing room only on the bus.
Things to know: The admission is free. The Memorial site is open 7 days a week from 9am-5pm. The audio tours are available in several languages for a nominal charge. There is a lot of walking on the tour, so wear comfortable shoes. There is a cafeteria for lunch, snacks and drinks.