The Holocaust is a time in world history that everyone looks upon with shock & disbelief. How could something like this happen in Western culture during the twentieth century? How could this happen at any time or any place? The actions of the Holocaust are something that I have personally researched for a good portion of my academic career by reading memoirs & documents, taking specified history courses during my time in college, and viewing documentaries, but I didn’t fully understand it or its ramifications until experiencing a former concentration camp first-hand.
For those of you who aren’t as familiar with the Holocaust, you probably do know the big picture. Over five million European Jews, and even more people from other walks of life – the LGBT community, people with disabilities, “gypsies”, Poles, Soviet civilians – were murdered by Nazi Germany's government in concentration camps, ghettos, transport via train, in their homes…you get the idea. Calling it sickening is an understatement.
“Sickened” is a good word for how I felt about the Holocaust before I visited Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial in the summer of 2014. I don’t even have a word for how I felt after I left. I’m not sure I’ll ever fully understand the loss that Europe – and the world – endured during this period, and through all of World War II; I don’t think anyone can unless you’ve lived it. But visiting Dachau solidified my thoughts on the Holocaust and strengthened my hope & desire that something that catastrophic & inhumane would never happen going forward.
I honestly don’t really know how to explain my experience at Dachau and do it & its victims justice. There are simply no words to describe how it felt to walk the same ground as its sufferers. The memorial is eerily similar to the photographs I have seen of liberated camps, with “Arbeit Macht Frei” over the entrance, replication living areas, original gas chambers and crematorium, all in their distinctive spaces. Each of these structures has labels & histories detailing what precisely they were used for & how they functioned. Devastating stories of victims are on display in the memorial areas along with some of their belongings that were taken upon arrival to the camp.
The location of the camp is as equally disturbing as the camp itself. It’s a quick bus ride from the train station and literally in the town of Dachau. That means that people were living & working & raising their children just minutes away while Holocaust victims were being shipped to and from the camp. This isn’t uncommon for these camps; German citizens have stated in interviews & reports that they saw the grounds and chose to ignore them, whether out of fear, uncertainty, disbelief, or other reasons. Camp prisoners lived in deplorable conditions, oftentimes without washing facilities, proper sanitation, & in cramped quarters. They were malnourished, beaten, and forced to do excruciating manual labor. People, this went on for over a decade. Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp and a model built for all future concentration camps. It was opened in 1933 and the last of the camps were liberated in 1945. It took twelve years to resolve the most extreme human rights issue in modern history.
The reason I wanted to share this particular experience is simply because people forget. People forget how terrible the Holocaust was, and don’t realize that it happened under one hundred years ago. The Holocaust occurred while my grandfather was a young man. How recent an atrocity can occur, and still people forget.
It happens in every aspect of activism in our modern world. People get so quickly & totally absorbed in an occurrence they see on social media and a month later it is barely a memory. I could name a million things: Kony 2012, #standwithPP, the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping, the Armenian genocide, North Korea's nuclear weapons situation, ISIS's attacks in European cities & around the world. It is so important to remember.
It is especially important to me to bring awareness of the repercussions of bigotry, racism, and xenophobia, which were ultimately the cause of the Holocaust. Student don't want learn history today, and they don't know the importance of understanding past occurrences, and the reasons of said occurrences. People forget that the Holocaust began by Hitler rising to power through promises that had no credibility. He played upon the fears of German citizens during their nation's worst economic state in their history, naming Jewish people as the cause of their problems, and basically saying anyone who was different was a threat. By embracing different cultures and remaining tolerant of those who have differing beliefs, we can help lead to peace & cohabitation. Keeping an open mind and having the knowledge of what could happen should a nation have closed minded citizens is the easiest way to ensure a Holocaust wouldn’t happen again. Do personal research through credible sources, seek out knowledgeable people, know history, keep an open mind. And don't forget.
Hi, I'm Madeline
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