We left at 9AM and began our journey to the train station. All the way there, I was thinking about everything I had learned concerning the Holocaust and the role that Germany played in it all. I thought about my classes and how it affected me personally, the ethical debates I had back and fourth in my head and how I was going to react. I honestly didn't know. Just last week, I had walked through the hiding place of Anne Frank, and today I would be going the very place she and so many tried to avoid. My spirit seemed to already be breaking.
We transfered from train to train until we finally made it to the town of Oranienburg. Our tour guide, Iuanna, began explaining to us that this was the town that the Nazis decided they would use as the headquarters of all the concentration camps, and would be the base system as well as the location of the first concentration camp, Sachsenhausen. She began to explain to us that this was not an uninhabited town, that there were people who lived here and lived very active lives. They saw those that were condemend as prisoners and forced to work because of who they were or how they identified. She told us that sometimes, the people of Oranienburg would even particpate in the torture and humiliation of the prisoners, spitting on them and throwing rocks at them. Already, I was overwhelmed. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
As we walked the streets of Oranienburg, we saw the memorials and the houses that were builts by those who had been taken from their own lives and forced to build another. What terrified me is that people were now living in them, raising their families in these same houses in which these "prisoners" had lost their lives bulsing for these SS soldiers. I couldn't believe it. As we approached a big grey building, Iuanna informed us that this was the official HQ of the SS, those in charge for running all 37,000 concentration camps, which was ran by 104 people. Walking into the bulding, we talked about who was in charge, and as we moved, we looked at pictures of the camp, as well as being introduced to some of the conversations by the head of the SS, making plans for mass murder of millions of people. I was sick. I could've ended the tour right then, but I needed to continue, to finish what I started.
We made our way to Sachsenhausen. We walked down the same roads that they did, and I was immediately thrown into a state of shock. Could this have been my life? Could I have survived? I knew the answer, and it was no. I couldn't have been taken from all I had known and thrown into a place resembling hell. It made me think, because throughout this trip, I have been complaining about there being no air conditioning, or enough ice in my drinks, or the conditions of living, or the wifi not being strong enough. But these people, homosexuals, Romini, Luxembourg police, Jews, and so many more had been taken from everything they knew and thrown into a place that didn't exisit in my nightmares. It humbles you, at the very least. These people collapsed from stravation, and cold, and being overworked, and I'm complaining about ice. It makes you think.
From there, we walked through the gates that so many walked through into the triangular enclosure. We stood and saw the electric fences, the "Dr.'s Office, the creamatorium, the baracks, the center of it all, the SS posts, the interogation rooms. I stood in awe. This was the new death of so many. All the dreams and plans disappeared, where the only way out was through "the chimney of Station Z". I was horrified. This place had been organized to bring people, to torture and kill, to get rid of them. The complete disregard for human life was disgusting. As we visited each building, we walked past mass graves and I couldn't help but think how many people died in the very places I was walking. How many human remains were under my feet.
As we visited the last building, all the storied began flooding through my head and the only thing I could think of was how I could not wait to get out, to leave. I never wanted to come back here again. To think that this camp wasn't anything compared to the horror of the others made my flesh crawl. My hope is that people come here, to feel, to learn, and make sure that this doesn't happen again. Although I'm aware that this type of evil still exists, I pray that people, including myself, have the courage to stand up and face it before it manifest ever again.
"That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people as well."
Heinrich Heine, 1821