Over the February break of my junior year, I took a trip with a select number of students to Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Poland on a Holocaust tour. Whenever I tell people about my decision to go on this trip, I usually get blank stares followed by the question of, “Why?” which is exactly why I went, so I could figure out why this horrible act of unimaginable cruelty was committed against innocent people.
The first day we arrived in Berlin, we drove to the female concentration camp, Ravensbruck. Nothing could prepare us for what we were about to walk into; you can look at all the pictures you can find and read all of the stories you can get your hands on, but the feeling you get walking into a concentration camp that had imprisoned and killed thousands of innocent people is an emotion that cannot be described. The tours of these camps are very thorough and spare no details, which is why they are a very important aspect of any trip taken to these camps. As we walked through the camp every single one of the students in the group fell into an eerie silence; what is there to say when you are in such a horrid place? Finally the tour brought us to a lake on the other side of the camp where we all assumed our tour ended, but there was still one more building left in the camp; the crematorium. It took a lot of bravery to walk into that building, but seeing these horrible details of the camps was vital to gaining a full understanding of what had happened.
After Ravensbruck, we traveled to Poland to see Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Discussing what we saw in these camps is very troubling, no matter how many times I try to tell it, but walking through Auschwitz I and seeing all the shoes, clothes, hair, suitcases, pots and pans, stolen from the “inmates” and preserved behind glass cases, leaves me speechless and I am not even sure how to put what we saw into words. These innocent people had lives that were snatched and stolen from their hands as they faced unimaginable torture that no one should ever have to face. We then were brought to see one of the few remaining gas chambers in any of the camps (because many were burnt down to “cover up” the Nazi’s crimes). Walking into a gas chamber, a contraption so methodically and scientifically conceived just to kill people by the hundreds, is one of the most haunting experiences I have ever had to face. Auschwitz is a place like no other, but the devastating things we saw are ones that will affect us for the rest of our lives.
After Auschwitz, we then journeyed to Plaszgow Concentration Camp Memorial, then the Czech Republic to Camp Terezin, then Austria to Maulthausen Concentration Camp, and finally back into Germany to see Camp Buchenwald. Seeing all of these camps definitely has left a lasting mark on me and changed the way I act towards everything. Most importantly, it answered my question, “why?” I will not tell you my answer because my advice to you is to be brave and take this trip; take tours of the camps, but keep your mind open and let it feel all the emotions that come barreling through your head: feel the anger and hatred towards the evil in the world, but most importantly embrace all that you have learned and use that knowledge to fight the discrimination that happens in our world today.
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