Iron Bars: Touring a Concentration Camp

This is a different blog post. It isn’t about my delicious bratwurst or the lessons that comes from traveling. It is the part of my trip that I rarely talked about to anyone. I did not publish pictures on Facebook or smile in front of any monument. It is because this was when I toured a concentration camp.

“Jeden Das Seine”

Translating to English.

To each his own.

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Welded in the the gate, these are the words a prisoner read looking behind them after walking into Buchenwald concentration camp for the first time. To each his own. They thought there were there for a reason, little did they know.

My stomach clenched. I have read books, discussed and heard stories of the Holocaust and the Nazi concentration camps that I thought I was prepared to experience it first hand. Let me tell you something, I don’t think you will ever be prepared. You will never be prepared to be in the same room where people were shot in the neck or see the handwritten letters to lost family members. You will never be prepared to stand where they stood and see what they saw. It all just becomes too real.

Beyond the gate lies a panoramic view of a beautiful countryside. Because of this, I forgot where I was and what happened in the exact place. And then the next second came and I remembered.

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The view of the camp right after walking through the entrance.

Among the buildings still in existence includes the crematory, disinfecting room, and the killing room. Even just typing those words makes me feel so empty inside. In school, I had gotten use to talking about the mass executions and the process of the Holocaust; I had almost become numb to the subject. But standing there and walking through the blank rooms, knowing what had happened there, the medicine causing the numbness suddenly stopped and it all became real once more. Stepping into a new room and hearing the facts associated with it, took my breath out of my lungs each and every single time. It got to the point, where I could not even cry because my body was in complete shock.

I kept reading this one number over and over again. 50,000. At first glance my eyes glazed over the number because that couldn’t be true. 50,000? 50,000 people died at this exact camp? I am standing on the grounds where 50,000 people lost their life? It could not have been the real number; it had to have been less. It had to have been. But, coming to grips with reality I knew it was real. Buchenwald was not even a mass execution camp because it was centered on labor, and this was still the number.

Visiting the Buchenwald concentration camp was completely and utterly emotionally draining. I cannot and will not lie about that. But I will be honest, I am grateful I had the chance to go. You will not fully understand history or a tragedy until you are there and have experienced it. Even if it is a half a century later.

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