**A couple disclaimers before we get into this post…
- This is obviously going to contain graphic and triggering content. Please proceed with caution. Obviously my hope is that you read this and take something away, but I fully understand that this is a difficult topic to read about.
- I am Jewish. That colors everything, I do. Every part of who I am. More so now as I am starting to learn and realize some things from my past and my relationship with Judaism. But I am Jewish.
- This post is going to be jumbled. I don’t know how this is going to go, how this is going to get broken down, how it will be received, how much is just going to be a rambling stream of conscious. I don’t care. This is important.
- If you are someone who is a holocaust denier, a holocaust minimizer, an antisemite, racist, or want to disagree you may just move on. (It makes me very….grrr angry and heartbroken that I even have to say something like this, but it needs to be said.)
- (I’m just now adding these as I am writing this post). I think this is going to be a two-parter as I’ve only just finished the Dachau portion and I’m already pushing past 1500 words. The second part will be up in short time though- you won’t be waiting long for that.
- The second part was written after the incident of Domestic Terrorism on the US Capital, in which the most blatant display of antisemitism was exhibited in my life. I personally saw footage of “heil hitler”, camp Auschwitz sweatshirts, and two congressmen use Hitler’s rhetoric or name. If the tone is off in this second part as opposed to the first, please understand why.
- Finally, we are facing drastically rising Jew hatred not only in our country, but across the world. It’s often times hard to voice concerns, content, and information not only about this but also just about being Jewish. In a personal way, I am still learning and trying to figure out how I want to use my voice in regards to this.
- This post is being posted way after I originally intended to, but here it is.
Where do I even begin? During our two years in Germany, we visited a total of 4 Holocaust specific sites, along with numerous monuments and locations relating to World War 2. I’ve written specific blog posts that are just a presentation of the history and facts of each place that I’ll link as I talk about them, but I wanted to talk about the actual opinions and feelings that I experienced at each place. I didn’t do this in the posts for a couple different reasons, most importantly being that I think the actual cold hard facts of these places are not to be overlooked by our feelings of them. But also, I quite simply couldn’t talk about them. I didn’t have the words. I didn’t have the feelings. There is absolutely NOTHING that can prepare anyone for a visit to these places. These places where entire generations of your own people, your own ethnicity, were brutally murdered. I think for a long time after visiting, I found comfort (the very wrong word in this situation, but it’s the only one that makes sense) in the cold hard facts. In not coloring what happened with my own complicated heartbreak. But things change and as I see what is happening in our modern world, our current times, I think that it’s time for me to talk about what this experience was really like.
I’ve always been well understood, well read, well watched and versed, in the Holocaust. I think I was 11/12 when I really started deep diving into the history of it all. What could make a person single out one group of people as the cause for everything bad in the world? How? I couldn’t understand. I still can’t understand. And there is so much we still don’t know. We will never know. Either way, I learned A LOT. This was in part as it was part of my heritage, of who I was, but also because of the psychology of it all. When we got the orders to come to Germany, I knew that we were going to be visiting some of the camps, maybe even some of the locations that were in shambles, were barely even remembrances of what they were at the time. I had no idea what to expect and, as I said before, nothing could prepare me for what these visits would be.
I think I am going to break this up by location, in the order that we visited each location. Again, I’ll link each location to the “facts/history” post that I’ve already written, but this is just going to be purely my experience at each- good and bad. Each location is unique in both what we see/what you hear/your overall experience. For example, I would say Dachau Concentration Camp is more graphic in its imagery. The museum is excellent, but holds nothing back. A good amount of a visit to Dachau is going to be based in the imagery of the museum and the restorations/recreations of areas. Whereas Auschwitz-Birkenau is vastly different. First off, I would highly recommend a guided tour (first in when the camp opens purely because it’s so much quieter and so much more…just more) and so then you are HEARING. There are few pictures of the atrocities on display, it’s more what your tour guide tells you (which is very graphic) and the artifacts that you see. BUT we will get into all of that.
Dachau Concentration Camp (FACTS/HISTORY POST)
This was not the first World War 2 site we visited (we had been to both Nuremberg for a day trip and Berlin for a long weekend and seen several memorials/museums), but this was the first concentration camp. And, like many to follow, there are certain aspects that are etched in my mind, firmly planted and tied to my experience. The first being that the day we visited was a brilliant spring day. It was warm, but not hot; brightly sunny and the clearest blue skies you’d ever seen. It was, quite honestly, the perfect spring day and we were spending it visiting one of the most horrific places. That jarring difference made such an impact as the location of the camp, the property was beautiful area of the country and to have this beauty as a backdrop just made the horror of what we were seeing etch in my mind further. Those that lived here didn’t think it was beautiful, and when it was “in action” it definitely wasn’t this beautiful.
Walking through the museum is an abbreviated look into just how bad Dachau was. Obviously, a good amount of the world knows about the Holocaust and has seen pictures or such in some form. The museum on the campsite is located in the “entrance” building where prisoners would be processed, so you are walked through the camp system from start to finish. You are able to see artifacts, hear stories from prisoners, and see what kept them going. While most of this you may know, there is something unique to visiting it where it actually happened. You are able to see bits from the camp itself, including the actual original gate to the camp (and yes the “Arbeit Macht Frei”) as well as other sculptures relating to the camp and prisoners. The thing from the museum that is really etched in my mind is the story of how this memorializing of the camps came to be. The government wanted to destroy it, but it was actually the prisoners and families that said no and wanted to do something with the camps. Such strength and resilience.
Something else that will forever be etched in my mind is how…not big it was. When you walk out of the museum you are on the “parade ground” where they would take the roll call of all the prisoners, where they would discipline, and have other displays. You are able to look back along where the “cabins” would be that actually held the prisoners. It’s not big. There are only two prison cabins still intact, which show the progression of the “cabins” as the camp filled and filled and filled. But then, you look back and see the raised bricks where each would be. I repeat, it wasn’t big.
The final memory, the one that will forever haunt me and would haunt anyone that visits, they are where the Nazi’s killed and disposed. Dachau wasn’t set up to be an extermination camp (like Auschwitz-Birkenau was), so the facilities in the back corner of the camp (that you actually leave the fenced area of the camp to walk into another fenced area) are small. In fact, there are two sets of ovens as the original set became quickly overwhelmed with the rate that they were being used. I will NEVER forget walking through this area of the camp. Walking through the showers, into the room where the ovens were is etched so permanently into my brain. When you are in that room you can feel the difference. The difference in the air, in the emotions of the room, in the stillness. It was in that moment that I could feel the air change, I could feel the sheer hatred of a people whose goal was to exterminate. It disgusted me. It terrified me. It changed me. Walking out from that building into the bright spring air was a weird kind of relieving rebirth of sorts. Dachau was not an extermination camp, it was not intended to be used as such, and yet here it was…the extermination techniques.
I left Dachau feeling raw, beyond upset, and in a bit of a state of shock. You don’t truly understand what these camps were like, unless you are a survivor, but visiting them, walking those steps gets a close idea. This was also the first time I had been exposed to such…hatred. Such callous treatment of other people. Such little care for the lives of those around you. And this was “right down the road” from us…kind of. It was only 1.5-hour drive from us. Even now, I don’t know if I have the right words to express the sheer amount of sadness, anger, fear, heartbreak, sickness, that was going through my body and my mind.
Lidice (FACTS/HISTORY POST)
If Dachau Concentration Camp wasn’t enough, over the Thanksgiving weekend, we traveled a little bit into the Czech Republic. In between our drive from Karlovy Vary to Prague we stopped at, what was, a little town of Lidice. By the time I left I felt pure anger mixed with just shock. This was the only time where my emotions ran into the facts post because it was horrendous in a completely different way.
The town of Lidice was destroyed. Completely. Razed over. Homes burned to the ground. Livestock killed. Families killed or sent to camps. Children GASSED. BUT, but, but, but, that simply wasn’t enough. No, they couldn’t just destroy the town, no, they CHANGED THE TOPOGRAPHY OF THE REGION. The leveled the ground, filled the river, and PLANTED CROPS over the town. Because they wanted no trace of a city that MAY have held resistance fighters. Later they found the resistance fighters that they thought were in Lidice somewhere else, but it wouldn’t have mattered.
The difference for me, from Dachau and Lidice were night and day. When walking in Dachau it was pure shock, the pure feeling of standing there where all this had happened. Everything that I had read and learned about and here I was. Lidice I didn’t have all this foreword knowledge of, I was learning as I was walking and then later on when we got back home. I felt heartbroken for everyone who lived there at the time, but mostly I can single my feelings to shock and anger. The lengths that were taken to completely wipe this village from every map, every memory, over the sheer rumor of resistance. Those feelings are etched in my mind and will be forever.
One other thing etched in my mind from Lidice is a statue/monument that they have to the children of Lidice. I’ve never seen a sculpture be able to convey the very real emotions in a moment until stepping up to this monument. The hollowness, the fear, the sheer shock of the situation. I WILL NEVER not see those eyes in my mind whenever I think about Lidice.