On a cold rainy day, we visited Sachsenhausen concentration camp, which is about two hours outside of Berlin. Having been to Auschwitz, I felt somewhat prepared, well, as prepared as you can be at a place like this. Much of the camp had been destroyed and a little bit of the camp has been rebuilt to give you an idea of what the camp once looked like. The first thing I noticed when we pulled up to the entrance, were houses about 20 feet away from the entrance of the camp. At that moment, I thought to myself, “Were these houses here in the 30’s and 40’s? And if so, there is NO WAY they didn’t know what was going on behind these walls.”
Our tour guide asked us a question at the beginning of the tour; she said, “Do you see these houses? They were here in the 30’s and 40’s. How many of you think that they knew what was going on here?” Without even a blink of an eye, I said, “OF COURSE THEY KNEW WHAT WAS GOING ON! They are literally RIGHT THERE.” She said, “I’m glad that you said that, because sadly sometimes when I give tours to German groups they say, of course not! No one had any clue what was going on.” This one comment stood out to me more than anything else that she mentioned on the tour.
I have failed to mention what a stellar group of individuals I had on my trip. Not only was my group thoughtful and intelligent, but the staffers on my trip were all also incredible. They weren’t Jewish, and were doing their PhD’s in topics relating to the Holocaust. While we were at the camp, we were taking a break and sat down to have a cup of
coffee. I asked them, “Why they did it? Why did they feel the need to study about the Holocaust?” I’m completely paraphrasing our entire conversation, but in essence, they felt it was their duty. They needed to do it in order to remember so that it never happens again. They also talked about how difficult it is for people in Germany to want to recall and speak about the past because in some ways, it has put such a stain on their country and maybe even their own family.
When we got up to walk around I mentioned how I was afraid that we would forget once all of the survivors have passed on. His response was, “Why do we put such a heavy burden on the survivors? They have already been through enough. It’s our job to talk about it. We need to remember too.” That conversation really made me re-think my initial fear of the survivors passing on. While I always knew it was important to talk about, now more than ever, we have to stand up and make our voices heard. And we cannot rely on anyone else to do it for us. I am forever thankful that there are people like them, who are doing such important work, and continuing to remember. I can only hope that there are millions more just like them.
Germany has done a lot of repenting for what happened during the Holocaust, but I fear, really truly fear, that it isn’t enough. Most young Germans do not feel a connection to the Holocaust. Sure, they learned about it growing up, and most likely even visited a concentration camp or two, but they weren’t alive when it happened, they didn’t do it, and if their family had any connection, they probably don’t want to be reminded of it; so why should they have to constantly apologize and talk about it? Why?! BECAUSE THEY DO! Because its their duty! Not just for the 6 million people that died, but for humanity and ensuring that atrocities like this never happens anywhere in the world ever again!
. . . . .
When I returned home from my trip, everyone asked me, “HOW WAS IT?!” With a big smile on their face. And while I wanted to say, “IT WAS SO MUCH FUN! I HAD A WONDERFUL TIME!” I responded with a much lengthier (sorry!) story about where I went, what I witnessed and the people that I met.
I was afraid, nervous, and anxious to come to Germany, but in the end I am SO glad that I did. Sure, there were a lot of difficult times throughout the trip, but I learned more than I ever could have imagined and as I said about my trip to Poland, I think everyone should visit Germany at least once in their life, if anything to challenge yourself.
A country that has vibrant cities, great food, and friendly people.
A country that must do more to ensure that its citizens continue to remember its grave history.
A country that has reminded me how important it is that we all work together to ensure that the stories of the survivors live on.
We have done a lot of work, and Germany has come a long way; there are memorials, and reminders everywhere, but there is still a lot of educating, repenting, and healing to do. Even though it won’t be easy, we must never forget, never stop having difficult conversations, and never stop educating ourselves about the 6 million people who perished just because of who they were and what they believed, so that we can all ensure that it never happens again.
P.S. I know this three part story was a bit all over the place… it was more difficult to post about this than I had originally imagined. So thanks for sticking with me! And as always, it’s a work in progress! Feel free to post any comments, constructive criticism, and personal experiences! 🙂 And keep in mind, these are all my personal opinions. Thanks for following along!