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.
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.
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.