A few years ago, my family and I traveled with a group from my school to Germany, Austria and Switzerland. We went through a humbling experience when we visited Dachau, a concentration camp located just outside of a town. Being the first Nazi camp opened in Germany, Dachau served as the prototype for the other Nazi concentration camps that were created after. Even before walking in, there were forms of malevolence that a visitor (much less a prisoner arriving there) cannot ignore. On the front gate, a sign says, “Work liberates,” implying that this is not a sedentary prison. Near the front gate, we noticed rail road tracks that the prisoners would be dropped off to move into the concentration camp.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
The prisoners would be taken from their home or work and be delivered to the concentration camps where they would be separated from their families by age, gender and strength.
One of the first things we noticed while walking in was that there were memorials for survivors and the deceased who had been forced there. The entire concentration camp had been turned into a museum that educated visitors and allowed us to see what life would have been like when it was in use (approximately 1933-1960). Over twelve years, the camp is believed to have had over 200,000 prisoners held captive and of that, about 25,613 died in the camp. This camp was across the street from a town; a town which later claimed that they had no idea of the camp’s doings. In our visit, we saw the sleeping barracks (40 or more) where all of the prisoners slept. They contained a row of triple bunk beds that filled up a room when pushed together side to side. The prisoners slept shoulder to shoulder to fit them all in the beds. If one person became sick, most other people would catch the illness due to the close proximity of their bodies. Of course, the practice was unsanitary and inhumane but was continued and practiced in about 1,500 other concentration camps (about 20 large camps and the rest were temporary).
The sleeping barrack wasn’t the only terrible part of the prison. The prisoners suffered from malnutrition and all were emaciated because they were not given enough food and many were worked to death. Many people starved to death or could not take the physical labor that was being forced on them by the guards at the camp. In a different section of the camp, there were crematoriums and gas chambers. Both of these were alternative ways to kill someone. The gas chambers at this camp were claimed to never have been used, but the idea was to poison the people inside and to quickly kill up to 30 people at once. The crematoriums were in constant use and were even expanded after a few years. Seeing the chambers, crematoriums and beds humbled everyone on the trip, including myself and made me realize that even if I might not have the best day at home, at least I have enough food, space and freedom to do the things that I believe are right. This made me realize that some people, if given the power, will use that power to potentially hurt others. This vacation shaped who I am as a person but also allowed me to realize that life hasn’t always been as great as it is today, making me even more thankful for everything that surrounds me.
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