I thought that I was prepared to visit Sachsenhausen.
I was not.
As soon as we stepped onto the Sachsenhausen site, there was an overwhelming feeling of somberness. It was like the weight of everything that happened there was physically weighing on us. As we walked down the pathway to the actual camp, there were canvases with information about some of the things that happened within the camp, describing some of the major events of surrounding Sachsenhausen. These canvases did not even begin to compare to the horrors that we saw once inside.
Inside the Commandant’s house, there were personal accounts from many of the German soldiers that lived and worked at the camp. I read a biography of a soldier who was never arrested because of his “moral and upstanding character.” It was really, really hard to read about the people that committed such horrible crimes described as good people. There was one quote from a German soldier that made me feel physically sick. In writing to his wife, he said “We’re so spoiled here, I don’t even want to go home,” So many people were directly involved in horrible, horrible things, but they were made to believe that what they were doing was right. German soldiers were rewarded for the things that they were doing so much that some of them didn’t even want to go back to their families.
In addition to all of the soldiers that believed what they were doing was okay, there were thousands of other people that were involved. From the doctors to the architects to the laborers that aided in the building of the camp, thousands and thousands of people had to buy into it. That, or they were forced into it to save their own lives. Regardless, there were so many people involved in this horrible idea, which is what allowed it to happen.
The weather throughout the whole day was gloomy and dark, which fit exactly what I was feeling as I walked through the camp. About halfway through the day, I walked through the execution trench and Station Z, which is where much of the gassing happened. Walking through those places, thinking about exactly what happened there was an overwhelmingly emotional experience. It started raining around that time, which felt incredibly fitting. It was like the sky was releasing all of the emotions that I was feeling.
On Sunday, we visited the Holocaust Museum and the Memorial for the murdered Jews. This was a similar, yet very different experience than the concentration camp. At the camp, much of the focus was on the lives of the people that worked there and the general horrors that took place there. The Holocaust Museum focused on the lives of many of the victims of World War II. Reading about and listening to stories of specific people and what they went through was just as sickening as reading about the things that the German soldiers said and did. I listened to a recording of a woman talking about how she unknowingly sent her son and mother off to the gas chambers. It made it much more real and even more horrible listening to the stories of actual people. This was not just something that happened in the past. This was something terrible that happened to real people, just like us.
It is safe to say that I was very emotionally overwhelmed by these locations, but what I felt is not even comparable to how the people that went through it all firsthand must’ve felt. Germany has done a really good job of not covering up what they put people through. Though we will never know what it was like for the people involved, we can catch a glimpse of what happened, why it happened, and how to prevent anything like this from happening again.
One thought on “Sachsenhausen and Holocaust Museum Reflections”
Very thoughtful description of your experience.