"Work Sets You Free." - A propaganda slogan used in local and regional media to convince the population that this was merely a work camp or a re-education camp for criminals.
In 2014 I had the chance to visit Dachau, Nazi Germany’s very first concentration camp, established in 1933 by Heinrich Himmler. It was the design by which all other concentration camps were based. It began as a prison for political prisoners - communists, liberals, dissenters. As things escalated, more 'types' were added; Catholic priests who protested Rome's support, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, Roma Gypsies, Polish citizens, the handicapped and Jewish people. Dachau was made to accommodate some 6,000 people. At its end, it held some 30,000. Barracks designed to hold 200 were overfilled at capacity of 2,000. It was known for its physical and psychological torture, as well as human medical experiments.
Nazi propaganda media publishing: To convince the outside world that Dachau was merely a work camp, they supervised journalist photography while allowing an inside view of the camp. They used new arrivals who were still in relatively good condition. The photo is taken from a raised position, to give the impression that those pictured are 'below' us, and the viewer subconsciously looks down on them. Finally, they shaded their faces after - to give the impression that those pictured are nothing but common criminals.
Trees and flowers were planted - another propaganda move, so that visitors would see how 'nice' the place was.
Press release - more propaganda about the cheery, lighthearted 'work camp.'
In our modern musing there seems to be a common misconception that there were only a handful of camps where these atrocities were committed, but in reality there were more than 40,000 camps established between 1933 and 1945 across Europe.
Here are the records logged of every life lost at Dachau alone.
"Each of us today is shaping the background history of tomorrow." – Professor Chaim Schatzker
"It is incomprehensible that something like this can happen in the twentieth century...” – prisoner Adam Kozlowiecki
The stark reality of how big the Nazi movement grew is made more apparent by how much citizen complacency played into its growth. Allowances were made by bystanders until it was simply too big to stop. Even when they doubted the integrity of the lie, average citizens turned to the media for confirmation that the things happening in their own neighborhoods were acceptable and even necessary. It was comfort food for those in doubt.
Meditating on these facts also bring about a better understanding of the 'Holocaust Denial movement,' whose followers still buy into that same media propaganda to this day.
How do we allow the media to shape our biases in this day and age? How we perceive those who are unlike ourselves – and how we allow those in power to treat them – will be the deciding factor for how we are shaping human history for future generations.
In the end, we should always remember the message inscribed on the walls of Dachau – NEVER AGAIN.