The Day the Earth Stood Still, Well Sort of…

"Work Makes You Free"Sachsenhausen 2007
“Work Makes You Free”
Sachsenhausen 2007

I was looking through some of my old photos today because that’s something that I enjoy and I came upon a trip that my family and I took in 2007.  I have very fond memories of this trip.  We went to visit my sister in England, where she was studying at the time, and then took a short three day trip to Berlin.  My family is German, so we wanted to stop by just to see what it was like.  In retrospect, we all wish that we had gone somewhere in Bavaria because it has more of the traditional Germany that we’re used to.  Nevertheless, we still enjoyed the vibrant, modern city of Berlin.  When looking at this thriving city-state now, one would never guess that it was once the epicenter of one of the world’s greatest atrocities.

The very first thing I remember about the trip was getting to our hotel after 32 hours of being awake.  We were all tired, needed a shower, and were very cranky.  It didn’t help matters that when we got to the super modern Novotel Dorint, which is located in the Tiergarten district of Berlin (it’s not actually an animal garden or anything, but it was once home to the hunting grounds of great kings past).  The hotel workers weren’t friendly.  We looked rural American and obviously didn’t speak German.  (I do a bit, but not fluently).  Anyway, after a long day’s travel and finally arriving at our hotel, we all passed out in our hotel room.  It was a great night’s sleep.

The next day, I really don’t remember how we decided this, but we somehow found the location of one of the first work camps/concentration camps (I can it a work camp because it was originally dedicated for POW’s and political prisoners and was not known for mass executions) only a few miles from our hotel.  The camp, known as Sachesenhausen, is located in Oranienburg, just outside of Berlin in Brandenburg.  The village surrounding the camp is quaint, but beautiful, streets lined with multi-family homes of different pastel colors.  One would never guess what was hidden behind those gray concrete and wooden fences of the camp.

We decided to take an audio tour of the camp, which seemed to be the preferred method for most of the tourists (I hate this word, but that’s what we were).  If you haven’t seen one of these before, it’s basically a telephone-like earpiece that you hold up to your ear and it tells you what is going on at each designated number in the camp.  After awhile, I got tired of holding it to my ear and listening, so I just read the signs instead and my family filled me in on things I had missed.

If you have never been to a concentration camp before, I can honestly say that buying a plane ticket and then flying to Germany or Poland to visit one is well worth the time and money, even if it’s the only thing you decide to do on the trip.  There is a feeling of extreme calm over the entire place.  It’s like everyone is afraid of saying anything or to show any emotion other than sorrow, grief, and reverence and justifiably so.  There is no room for any other emotions inside the prison fence because of the horrible things that happened there.

Guard post and front gates of Sachsenhausen.
Guard post and front gates of Sachsenhausen.

I remember learning that Sachesenhausen was one of the first camps to test out the gas chambers.  The camp never had one nearly the size of the gas chambers found at Auschwitz or Dachau.  Like I said, it was an “experiment” there (although I don’t see how taking human lives could ever justify any scientific finding).  Other forms of execution were tested as well.  I was horrified to see the remains of a room used to “weigh” prisoners.  In reality, when the prisoners stood on a scale, back facing the wall, a brick in the wall was quietly removed behind their head and they were shot point blank, their pooling blood covered with sawdust so that the next prisoner wouldn’t suspect.  Chilling.

Probably the most horrific thing that I witnessed of everything horrific in this camp, was the execution pit, which was nothing more than a trench lined with thick logs meant to catch any ricocheting bullets and to buffer the sounds.  I just can’t imagine what it would be like to go into that pit, knowing that it was the last time you would see the sky.  I can’t imagine how terrible and damning that must feel.  I don’t think many of us will ever know what that is like.

Execution pit at Sachsenhausen.
Execution pit at Sachsenhausen.

What is the purpose of all this you might ask?  Well, first of all, I think it’s important that we never forget history, especially something like the Holocaust.

The second thing, and the point of all this, is that after looking through these pictures and reliving that day back in 2007, the day that I felt everything around me was silent and still, listening to what the ghosts of the prisoners had to tell me, was one of the most powerful experiences of my life.  Thinking back to all I learned about that place and all the terrible things that happened there to people who didn’t deserve any of it, I realize just how lucky I am to have the life I have now.

Some days are not perfect.  Sometimes people hurt me and I hurt them and tears are shed.  Sometimes I feel sad and lonely and other times I wish my OCD would just take a hike.  Even though sometimes I feel like life couldn’t be worse, I can remember that it can be worse, much, much worse.

I think it is time, not just for me, but for everyone to take a hard look at our lives and realize the good things we have.

I have a wonderful, supportive family, a loving boyfriend, a steady job, and a decent income.  Despite my struggles with OCD, my life really isn’t so bad.




41 thoughts on “The Day the Earth Stood Still, Well Sort of…

  1. I visited a concentration camp when I was in the second grade. Too young to have filled in all the horrible details, but old enough to know that many people had died there. I, too, remember it being very quiet and solemn.

  2. As you said Megan, we need to see how the other half lives. A shift in paradigms never hurt anyone, on the contrary. One of the things I recently learned is to write down three things I was grateful for every day before I went to bed. I’ve started writing that journal and I am amazed there are so many things to make me feel blessed.

    1. That is a great idea. I have really been thinking that this is going to be a year of love and gratitude. I now think that I will start writing down the things I am grateful for daily, possibly keeping them in a journal. Thank you for your kind words 🙂

  3. Thank you for sharing your experiences Megan – I find it hard to watch programmes about the horror of the war but it must be very moving to actually walk in the footsteps of those poor people.

  4. I toured Dachau in 1988. I was a young, hardened soldier at the time. It was like a kick to the stomach. The young, hard-hearted soldier cried.

    1. I absolutely understand this. If one doesn’t get emotional at these sites, then it’s difficult to say that they are really human. Thank you for sharing.

  5. This is a very moving blog post. I have never been able to visit the concentration camps but my sister did and she said there are no words to describe the feelings you get from the experience. I very much relate to the belief that we all should take a hard look at our lives and just be grateful for what we have. We truly do have so many blessings.

  6. Hey there… so cool to find your site. I love your pictures, and it is great you are discussing your OCD. From the comments, it seems to touch many people. It’s great being back in touch after all these years!

    1. Thank you for stopping by! I just enjoy sharing, but if someone gets something from my posts than that is an extra bonus! Beaufitul tattoos by the way 🙂

  7. I’m glad that you had a positive experience there. Sad as these places are, we never want to forget. It’s a lesson we don’t want to do over again. Thanks for the post.

    1. Yep, my family is German. I have a very German last name 😀 I took a semester in college and then four years in high school. I come from a county that is almost totally German Catholic, which is an interesting, yet homogenous culture. Needless to say, I learned most about other cultures from going to college. You def should go! It’s a beautiful country.

  8. Ms. Megan
    Yesterday I post something and you did let it show up. Today I though if you can give it to me by post it to my blog.
    Great appreciate if you can do that for me. Thanks

  9. Thanks for liking one of my posts,much appreciated. With regard to the above post I visited Bergen Belsen camp and as well as the quiet calm and overwhelming sense of sadness something else felt odd. There were no birds, when discussing it with others I was told there never is. I don’t know if that is true but it was the case on the day I was there.You are right about our lives in the first world, whatever it is that is inconveniencing us it bears no comparison to what so many others have suffered and are still suffering. Good luck with your blog and overcoming the OCD.

  10. Perspective, as you show, is a really good thing to have. As a historian, and having studied this particular part of history, I believe none who have not experienced the death camps can ever really understand what they went through. But we should remain ever vigilant. But the horrors of your OCD are no less serious than anything those people suffered, just different.

  11. Thank you, Megan! Your post inspires me to write about my experiences visiting historical sites where atrocities occurred in Argentina, South Africa, and Turkey. I will keep it in mind to visit Germany one day. I also appreciate you visiting and liking my article, My Play or Yours? on Blessings & Warmly, Lori

  12. Thanks for stopping by my blog, and for sharing this experience. The horrors of the holocaust are so enormous, we should never be allowed to forget the atrocities man is capable of. We all find things to complain about in our lives, but you are right to point out how very blessed we are compared to the people who lived through that terrible time. So many died, so terribly. It’s a wonder the very earth these places stand on doesn’t weep tears of blood.

  13. I also visited Sachsenhausen several years ago…such a humbling experience and really does put things into perspective.

    Thank you for checking out my blog. Your story is such an important one and I really appreciate the candidness of your blog. Keep up the great work!

  14. Germany is a place I have always wanted to visit, solely because of the Holocaust. Ever since I can remember, I have been fascinated (a terrible descriptive word under the circumstances, but accurate nonetheless) with learning all I can about the Holocaust – the camps, the victims, the rise and fall of the Third Reich and Hitler’s background experiences that led him to do these horrific unimaginable things. My heart aches for all the people who fell victim to his evil plans. One day I hope to be able to make a visit just as you did. I imagine it would be the most heartbreaking, eye opening and humbling trips a person could make. Thank you for this post.

    1. What’s funny is that I too have been highly intrigued by WWII history just as you are. I remember reading books in middle school about the Third Reich and the grim accounts of survivors of the Holocaust. As someone who probably appreciates history as much as myself, I think you should definitely visit someday. It really was an incredible experience. We are true kindred spirits 🙂

  15. Megan ~ Sobering, yes. My visit to a Camp began with getting on a train actually labeled “Dachau,” the village, but how chilling to think of all the people who rode a train to Dachau and never left. What I took away was not so much how blessed we are for living free, which we truly are, but that it all happened in quaint little villages in civilized countries populated by good people. How the dominoes fell and the Reich rose without enough individuals saying, “No, this is wrong,” to stop it is what is terrifying. It could happen again, to anyone, anywhere.

    First they came for the communists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

    Then they came for the socialists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

    Then they came for the jews,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

    Then they came for the catholics,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a catholic.

    Then they came for me,
    and there was no one left to speak for me.

    ~ Martin Niemöller

    1. The poem you included here by Niemoeller is humbling and I think an accurate portrayal of human behavior. All too often are we invested in our own interests and forget those of others. Thank you for sharing your experience at Dachau. This must have been a touching experience indeed.

  16. Your post and comments are touching. It’s only been the last few years I’ve begun to think must about the Holocaust and the wars, mainly through some great novels. We must never forget. It scares me a little when I hear attitudes from fellow countrymen about who belongs here and who doesn’t, fear, ignorance and jealousy surrounding recent immigrants. I think, it can happen again.

    1. It most definitely can happen again, perhaps not on that scale or in the same way, but I too agree that humans are capable of forgetting and repeating history. There is still so much hatred in this world. I hope more people can make peace and love a priority.

      ❤ Megan

  17. Nice read, this post was very touching and “chilling” Life is filled with sorrows but without them there would be no happiness. Thanx

  18. Interesting post! I was a German major in college and taught high school German for about 10 years. I first visited Buchenwald in college, and I was sobered by the silence. It is in rural eastern Germany, and doesn’t see a lot of daily visitors- none of the throngs of busses like Sachsenhausen or Dachau.

    It seemed unfair that the sun was shining that day at Buchenwald. As if only gray and grainy should be the colors of this place.

    Many years later, I traveled with a group of my students and went to Dachau. I was sickened by all the tourists, the ropes to direct the crowds, happy visitors having their pictures snapped in front of the gas chambers, the uncensored “comments” in the visitors’ center, cheeky comments and vile thoughts from Neo-Nazis. It made me ill. It made quite an impression on my students, as well, but I do remember a few kids that stayed behind, choosing to visit museums and go shopping, rather than visit Dachau. “We don’t want to spoil our vacation.” Sad.

    Many years later, I taught at a school, where I shared my classroom with two very lazy history teachers. They taught a ‘blow off’ senior elective on the Holocaust. It involved a very lazy group of students, and the teachers’ endless supply of VHS tapes of the Hitler-, I mean, History Channel. I was asked one year to help chaperone a visit to a local Holocaust memorial. One of the kids fell asleep during the talk given by a survivor, a woman in her 80’s. Snoring and all. Needless to say, I practically dragged him out by his ear and made him cry.

    Where am I going with this? Just glad you were able to get something meaningful from the visit.

    I would love to talk to you about places to visit, if you ever return to Germany!!

    1. I would absolutely love to visit again and would like to hear your recommendations 🙂 It seems you’ve had quite an interesting, fulfilling life thus far.
      Your story about the kid sleeping during the survivor’s narrative really reminds me of a German film. Have you ever seen “And then Come the Tourists”? The movie is almost exactly like what you describe. It’s a great film.

      Good job on making him cry. I can’t imagine how humbling of an experience that must have been to listen to a survivor. I would never have shown such blatant disrespect.

      What are your favorite places in Germany? Like I said, I’ve only been to Berlin!

  19. Megan, you never mentioned what else you did in those 3days, in one the coolest(and cheapest) cities in the world. Did you at least have a curry-wurst? By the way, those ‘not friendly’ hotel workers were probably very happy; Berlin is also known for its culture of rudeness(silly), and the best parties.

    1. We did some sightseeing, very tourist sight seeing on a double-decker bus 😉 I ate a half a meter bratwurst, which turned out to be a mistake. I have digestive issues and it didn’t agree with me. Of course we went to Sachsenhausen. It was a lovely 3 days, but honestly, the English countryside is quite a bit lovelier 🙂

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