I know I haven’t written in two days, and I have two excuses for this:
1. The group has been insanely busy, but we’ve been having a blast. I’ve been too busy living my life to take any time to write about it.
2. It’s difficult to find motivation to mentally go back to a concentration camp, and I knew that chronologically my next post had to be about Sachsenhausen. Just being real with you – I don’t feel much like writing about it.
Nothing can fully prepare someone to visit a concentration camp, and nothing I’m going to write in this post will adequately convey the experience. Sachsenhausen housed over 200,000 prisoners over the course of it’s existence from 1936-45 (Nazis) and then 1945-50 (Soviets). Many of the buildings have been taken down, but we were able to visit many that were still standing. I got to see the barracks with bunk beds stacked three high in rows so close together that hundreds of people could sleep in a room that could comfortably fit a dozen or two. I saw the medical ward where Jewish children were tested in various sick experiments. I saw the gas chamber, the crematorium, and the execution station where countless prisoners were shot. I stood next to the drain that was used to wash away the blood. I read about the newlywed pregnant woman, twenty-six years old – my age – who didn’t live long enough to have her baby. I read about the teenaged girls who tried to give some food to their starving Jewish friend, and they paid for this kindness with their lives. I read about the man who survived the camp, but lost his wife and children and went home to nothing. I could go on, but I don’t want to write it and you don’t want to read it.
People respond differently to these types of experiences. A few teacher friends warned me ahead of time that they would be crying their eyes out. I knew that this wouldn’t be me – I’m not prone to emotional breakdowns, especially in front of people I’ve only known for two weeks. I figured I would be sad, but I was surprised to find that my predominate emotion was anger. I was TICKED. I can’t remember the last time I was so mad. The whole thing – every single story – was so grotesquely wrong. I wanted to take our weird audio guides and start smashing the glass display cases. NOTHING ABOUT THIS CAMP IS OKAY.
In the basement of one of the buildings, there was a black display board with white papers for people to write their thoughts and post them. This is a pretty good idea so people don’t get mad and smash things with their audio guides. I could only read the pages written in English or Spanish, and for some reason I hated all of them (granted, I was in a really bad mood). The things written were notes such as, “Those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it” or “I hope these people are resting in peace” or “let’s make sure this never happens again.” They seemed trite. I thought about writing something to add to the board, but I couldn’t think of anything appropriate (by appropriate, I both mean appropriate to the situation and also appropriate as in “not laced with profanities”). I walked away from the board, but I thought to myself, “If I claim to be a writer, why can’t I think of a single word to write?” Then I realized I did have a word. I walked back to the board, picked up a pencil, and posted a paper that contained my one single word:
My word could go in a million directions, as it was doing in my mind at that moment:
Why can’t I think of anything profound to write for this stupid board?
Why did so many lives have to be cut senselessly short?
Why did anyone – ever – think this was okay?
Why didn’t anyone stop them?
Why did so few even try?
Why was I allowed to freely walk out of that camp that day when so many had died trying to do that very thing?
Why are so many of these stories forgotten or lost forever?
Why do I ever complain about anything in life?
Why are humans so terrible to each other?
I know I was being a bit dramatic, but if standing in the ghostly presence of thousands of innocent murder victims isn’t an appropriate time feel dramatic, then I’m not sure what is.
End post. I’m done writing this one.