Author: Carmen Gott
I have always thought of Germany as a place shrouded in mystery. My father’s family emigrated from Leipzig, Germany in 1918. I have been curious about my family’s homeland since a very young age. I was given a chance to travel to Germany when the Kansas Ambassadors of Music chose me to represent them during a trip to Europe. After being selected for their program, I waited two long years. In the summer of 2009, I boarded a plane headed to Europe.
Honorable Mention 2009 FTF Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
Throughout the trip, I envisioned the moment when I would get the chance to see the place my family had left behind. Two weeks into this grand adventure, we were finally headed to Germany. I have always considered World War II a fascinating yet devastating part of history. When we crossed into Germany, our bus coordinator announced our first stop would be a historic concentration camp, Dachau.
Upon entering the visitors’ office, we stayed as a group; however, we were free to part ways once check-in was over. As I walked away from the visitors’ office and out into the main area of the camp, I stopped. I had been told many stories about concentration camps, but nothing could have prepared me for what greeted my eyes. A pebbled walkway, lined with trees, was sprawled before me, and at the end, there stood a looming white building surrounded by a dense stonewall. Slowly, I walked up the path. When I reached the old, rain battered wall, I reached out and touched it with my hand. A sense of awe was sparked in me as I wondered who was the last prisoner to have touched this wall. Was it a child? A mother? A father? I crossed the threshold and started exploring the dark secrets of the country my ancestors had left long ago.
At the end of the day, I unhurriedly walked back to the gate. I had seen many things that day. I learned sorrow and sympathy and I saw the true consequences of hate and discrimination. That day, I observed pictures of monsters and glimpsed into the last days of innocent angels. Standing twenty feet away from the large stonewall I knew why I had so desperately desired to go to Germany. As I approached the exit from the main camp, I realized that my questions had changed. I no longer cared about who had placed their hand upon this wall; I wanted to know who had died for it. I wondered how many Jewish people were beaten and abused as they were forced to construct their own prison.
Silently, I stepped across the threshold into the world I thought I trusted. As I walked towards my bus, I gently reached down and picked up the burden my ancestors had left behind. It is the duty of the free to love those who are captive. It is the privilege of the free to carry the extra weight of the forgotten. Upon entering the bus, I noticed the happy stance of almost everyone surrounding me. As I looked around, I realized that no one really understood what he or she had seen. Tomorrow, they would pick up their instruments and play a few songs as if nothing had changed. In two days, we would all be on our way home. Home. What is that? It is a place some of the Holocaust survivors probably never found. A home is what I have given to the old memory of a child who once wished to place her hand upon the forbidden stonewall.