Wheelchair Access At Dachau Concentration Camp, Munich

In December 2015, I took an emotional tour of the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. The camp is located 10 miles outside of Munich, Germany and was the first internment and forced labor camp constructed by the Nazi regime.

Dachau Concentration Camp Wheelchair Access Guide
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In this article, I will share my experiences with the wheelchair accessibility of the memorial site through photographs and descriptions. I will also offer a bit of information on the history of the camp. This was only my second such visit to a Nazi-era camp located within Germany. The other was Sachsenhausen, in the city of Oranienburg, a suburb of Berlin.

Although the official Nazi death and extermination camps were set-up outside of Germany, Dachau was still a place of immense death. Between 1933 and 1945, nearly 32,000 people are confirmed to have lost their lives within its walls. The primary causes of death were exhaustion, starvation, sickness and disease. Numerous sources suggest that more than 200,000 prisoners passed through the camp during World War II. At the time of its liberation in 1945, 30,000 prisoners remained, while another 10,000 had been led away on a "Death March" only days before.

Dachau Concentration Camp Visitors Center, Info Desk & Audio Guides
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Visitors' Center

Visitors to the camp should first stop at the visitors' center to pick up an audio guide. These guides are offered in 13 languages, including English, German and Hebrew. Maps are also available to help direct your tour of the expansive grounds. Be advised that, to gain a complete experience, you should allow a half-day to tour the galleries, displays, monuments and buildings spread across the camp. Bring some tissues, as much of what you take in will have the power to elicit an emotional response.

Path to the Dachau Camp Main Gate
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After leaving the visitors' center, you'll walk or roll a path to the camp's main gate. The pathway is paved, but will be a bit bumpy. On the day I visited, it was cold (just above freezing) and a hazy fog hovered over the camp at low altitude. The weather conditions set the tone for the day, and allowed me to recognize how truly inhospitable life in a concentration camp could be.

Dachau Concentration Camp Main Gate
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Main Gate

Pictured above is the main gate of the Dachau Concentration Camp. Embedded in the iron gate are the words Arbeit Macht Frei, which translate to "work sets you free." That very work, in the form of intense, demanding labor, claimed the lives of many prisoners.

Dachau Camp Wheelchair Access Ramp Door
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Permanent Exhibition

After passing through the main gate, visitors should turn to the right to gain access to the former maintenance building. This is the largest structure remaining from the original camp, and it now contains the permanent exhibition. Access is available by a ramp, which leads to a set of double doors. These doors can be opened automatically using a nearby push button. Most, but not all  doors of the camp can be opened this way.

Dachau Concentration Camp Historical Museum Display and Exhibition
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The permanent exhibition offers a detailed look at the history of the camp, and the realities for those held there. Pictured above is a series of displays which offer insight into the living conditions at Dachau. Also included is an examination of the prisoners' daily routine, from morning roll call to the end of the day.

Christian Religious Objects At Dachau Concentration Camp
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While the Holocaust was directed primarily at Jews, people of all faith backgrounds were interned at Dachau, including Christians, Muslims and atheists. Academics, political dissidents and foreign operatives were also imprisoned there. Pictured above is a display which included items used by Roman Catholics at the camp - a crucifix and monstrance. Many prisoners continued to practice their religion while at Dachau, in spite of the repressive atmosphere. Religious leaders, including Jewish Rabbis and Catholic Priests who had spoken out against Nazism, were held at the camp.

Dachau Victims Book of Remembrance
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Book of Remembrance

Every person who passed through the gates of Dachau became a victim, regardless of whether they survived the experience. The permanent exhibition concludes in the Room of Remembrance, which memorializes the life that were lost or forever altered in the camp. Pictured above is the Book of Remembrance, which includes the names of those who perished in the camp.

Flipping through the pages of this book was an emotional experience for me, as it helped me to recognize and quantify the true cost of terror and violence in Nazi Germany. Keep in mind that this book covers only one camp - a camp that was not designed or purposed for the extermination of lives. The book is thick. Spend a few moments here to reflect and, if you are religious, pray for the souls whose names fill the pages.

Never Again International Memorial Wall, Dachau Concentration Camp
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"NEVER AGAIN"

These words appear in five languages on a memorial just in front of the former maintenance building, in the area where roll call was conducted each day. Following World War II, the international community came together, committing to never allow such horrors and abuses to occur again.

Wheelchair Tracks in a Stone Path at Dachau Concentration Camp
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Stone Pathways

As your tour continues, visitors will face a number of stone and gravel paths. Pictured above are the tracks of my power wheelchair, which began sinking into the stones. Choose your path wisely, and search for areas where the ground may be more firm. If you are a power wheelchair user, don't "let off the gas" if you encounter an area such as this!

Dachau Concentration Camp Barracks Wheelchair Access Ramp
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Prisoners' Barracks

Pictured above is the wheelchair ramp that can be used to access the reconstructed barracks building. The building was recreated and designed to show what the prisoners' living conditions were like.

Dachau Barracks Bunks Beds
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As you enter the barracks, you'll see the bunks where prisoners slept at night. They are arranged three high, and indicate just how cramped the spaces were.

Outlines of Foundations of Former Dachau Barracks Buildings
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Stones have been laid to outline of where the former barracks buildings were located on the camp grounds. In total, there are 32 of these foundational markings, split by the Camp Road, which now leads to five religious structures (constructed after the war), as well as the crematorium.

The five religious structures are: the Jewish Memorial, Carmelite Convent, Catholic Mortal Agony of Christ Chapel, Protestant Church of Reconciliation, and the Russian Orthodox Chapel. Services are held at these places of worship and remembrance weekly.

Dachau Crematorium Building, Wheelchair Access Ramp
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Crematorium

Pictured above is the Dachau Crematorium, which is only a short walk/roll from the religious buildings at the end of the camp. It was set apart from the main camp area, across the surrounding moat and circled by trees. The building is wheelchair accessible via the ramp pictured above. I apologize for the darkness in the photo - I spent a great deal of time at Dachau, and this was my very last stop on the tour.

Dachau Crematorium Ovens
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As I mentioned earlier, 32,000 confirmed deaths occurred inside the camp over its 12-year history. The remains of the dead were disposed of in the crematorium, using the ovens pictured above.

Dachau Shower or Gas Chamber
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Gas Chamber?

Pictured above is the door to a room that, on first glance, appears to be a gas chamber. A bit of a historical puzzle surrounds the space.

While at university, I studied the Second World War and the Nazi Germany homefront in great detail. My professors, backed up by my own research, held that gas chambers had not existed inside the pre-war borders of Germany, except for cases of design and testing.

After U.S. forces liberated Dachau in 1945, the Army and American media reported that this room was a gas chamber, where mass executions were carried out. Later study has suggested that this was not the case, and that this "gas chamber" was constructed after the camp's liberation, potentially by the liberators themselves. No evidence has been found to prove that a functioning gas chamber ever existed at the camp. If this topic interests you, you may perform a web search to learn more about this room.

Above the doorway is the word Brausebad, which translates to "shower." In the major extermination camps such as Auschwitz, Chelmno, Treblinka and others, prisoners were led into gas chambers that were disguised as showers. For those visiting the Dachau camp, it is best to consider this "gas chamber" as a representation of what one might have looked like at the camps specifically designed for the annihilation of prisoners.

Dachau Wheelchair Accessible Bathroom
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Restroom Facilities

Wheelchair accessible bathrooms are located in the visitors center' and in the building housing the permanent exhibition. These bathrooms are locked, so you'll need to request a key from a staff member. I advise that you plan to use the accessible restroom in the visitors' center, pictured above, as I was unable to find a staff member in the permanent exhibition. The bathroom facility was large enough to accommodate my standard wheelchair, had fold-up grab bars next to the toilet, and a sink that I could roll under in my wheelchair.

Useful Information

Dachau Bus 726 Wheelchair Access Ramp
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The Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the exception of Christmas Eve, December 24th. Admission to the memorial site is free of charge to everyone. Guided tours, lasting 2.5 hours and in English, are available for €3,00 per person. Alternatively, visitors may rent an audio guide for €3,50. The only other charge is for parking private vehicles at the camp, at a rate of €3,00 per car.

Public transportation to the memorial site is available from Munich, via the S2 train to Dachau station. The train is wheelchair accessible via a ramp (flag the driver) and the ride takes roughly 25 minutes from Munich Hauptbahnhof. At Dachau station, take bus 726 directly to the camp. Buses are also wheelchair accessible, via a fold-out ramp at the center door, pictured here.

For more information, visit the Dachau Concentration Camp's official website.

  • Larissa Bockenek

    I went to Dachau a few years ago. This article is so informative and stated facts I didn’t remember. Accessible information is spot on. I use a manual chair and part of the gravel was very difficult to roll through. My husband pulled my small wheels up and rolled me on my large wheels through the deep part. Other areas are dirt and gravel which is easier for me to navigate alone.
    If you are alone, don’t let this deter you. The exhibits are indoors and the roll to the crematorium wasn’t bad. I wouldn’t have hesitated to ask an employee for help if I had been alone. It’s well worth the experience.

  • Kimberly

    I think it would be both an interesting and emotional experience visiting a concentration camp, I am not sure how I would come out feeling. I feel like I get emotional just looking at your photos, its such a real thing. As for accessible, that is such a great thing, they should work on that gravel tho.

  • Backroad Planet

    What a thorough examination of your visit to Dachau, John! As a Holocaust educator, I have visited several camps in Poland and studied at Yad Vashem in Israel, and although I have visited Nuremberg, I have not yet made it to Dachau. I am pleased that they have made the site accessible to everyone, so all may agree “Never Again!”

    • My grandfather emigrated from Poland, but I have never visited. Nuremberg is also still on my list. I studied European history in undergrad, but my Master’s degree was focused on the Reconstruction era in America. Still very interested in WW2 Europe.

      • Backroad Planet

        I see you graduated from FSU, John. I got my masters from USF. Are you a Floridian? I live in Central Florida, and I love studying the Reconstruction era. Hope our paths cross on the road someday. We will have lots to discuss!

      • I currently live in North-Central Florida, but am planning to move back to the Midwest later this year. My sister lives & works in Orlando, so I will still visit that area quite frequently. Would love to chat history & travel some day!

  • Phenomenal Globe Travel Blog

    Visiting Dachau must have been really impressive and emotional… Thank you for sharing this post in such an honest and respectful way, it can be hard to write about visiting places like these. The Book of Remembrance is a powerful image showing how many lives were lost and destroyed during the war. War is awful and nobody wins:-(

    • It is all the more difficult when you realize that this was just one camp, and not nearly as deadly as the extermination camps to the East. 🙁

      • Phenomenal Globe Travel Blog

        Yes it’s not possible to fully understand such destruction and despair…

  • Your photos are really powerful, but especially the one of the ovens. It was frightening just to imagine. I can’t wrap my head around the horrors faced by the real people who were there. I think it’s the simple things like the Book of Remembrance or an exhibit of shoes that really helps us imagine the number of people who suffered and were murdered. It’s truly incomprehensible.

  • Melody Pittman

    John, you get around! Just reading your post about Dachau was enough to bring tears to my eyes and make me feel very sad. I haven’t visited any concentration camps for that reason but my husband did a tour of Germany years ago and shared his thoughts and memories with me. You did a nice job with your post though, touching.

  • Wow I didn’t know that people of different faiths were brought to concentration camps as well. How very sad.

    • Danielle, Hitler deemed many groups of people as enemies or undesirable in his Reich – Jewish people were certainly the prime target, but Catholics, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Homosexuals, Communists, and even the disabled were interned or killed in the camps. A very sad period indeed, but the German people rose up and are a great example to us all now (in my opinion).

  • Jenna

    I’ve always wanted to visit one of the concentration camps. It would definitely be a sad experience, but it’s so important to learn about history and learn from the past. Thanks for an in depth tour of the camp and that book of names really does put it all into perspective!

  • I have yet to visit a concentration camp, haven’t made it to that stretch of Europe yet, and have always been moved by stories of people who’ve visited. Thanks for sharing yours.

  • Love this, John! What you are doing is really good and I totally admire you for it. What a great human, authentic experience!

  • Karla Ramos

    They should have more tours like this, accessible even to those in wheelchair especially for places like this one. I went to a concentration camp once and I felt so emotional after but it would be good to see one at least.

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