Never Forget

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is a short essay I wrote, reflecting on my visit to the first concentration camp Dachau, about 20 years ago. I wrote it in 2012 and decided to post it here on Holocaust Remembrance day.

Submitted: January 27, 2019

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Submitted: January 27, 2019

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It is amazing that over 60 years after the holocaust, there are still those out there that deny its existence. Some do it out of ignorance; some do it to further their own misguided or malicious agendas.

Almost seventeen years ago, I was able to take an excursion I had wanted to do since I had been 8 years old and traveled to Germany and other surrounding German-speaking countries. My school joined others from other states, including a school from New Jersey. One of the side trips offered during our stop in Munich was to the concentration camp of Dachau.

 I would be a liar if I said I did not have any trepidation about going. My roommate on the trip actually backed out, preferring to stay in Munich, but many of my classmates were still willing to go. I asked one of my chaperones what he had thought since he had been there before. His words of wisdom were “to go, and go twice if possible. The second time for reflection.” The likelihood of my being able to return there anytime soon is unlikely, so I’m reflecting now in case I never make it back.

It was a mild bright day in April 1998 when our group stepped off the bus and entered the museum of Dachau. The museum is housed in one of the original buildings of the camp that used to house the kitchen and laundry facilities for the SS. We went through each exhibit in solemn observation, our shock and sadness growing as we went from one to the next. The exhibits portrayed both the daily life of the prisoners as well as medical experiments conducted on them against their will.

During our trip through the museum, Westmont’s group soon chose to separate from the group from New Jersey because of their childish and inconsiderate behavior. During that time, I discovered that one of the girls in my group, Rachel, had journeyed to Dachau with her mother to honor a relative who had died in the camp.

 After the tour through the museum, our group divided again. The guys from our group went one way, and we girls went the other. I do not remember having a large discussion about splitting up. It seemed to be one of those decisions that we subconsciously made together, a group mind-set.

The International Memorial was what greeted us girls when we emerged out of the building. It was horrifying and sad at the same time. A large sculpture, depicting emaciated prisoners was dominant, but as we wandered along the gravel paths we came to a wall on the east side.

The inscription on the wall simply read, “Never Again.” In front of it was a concrete urn filled with the ashes of unidentified victims. On top of the urn was dozens of little rocks. I remember being baffled by the stones and asking Rachel and her mother what they were for. They asked if I had ever seen Schindler’s List. When I answered I had not, they suggested that I see it. They explained that it was a tradition among Jewish people to honor the dead as they also placed small stones on top. I was so moved that I also found a small stone and placed it on top as well.

The next sights I remember seeing on our self-guided tour were Barrack X and the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign. The sign marked the original gate that the prisoners came through.  Barrack X housed the crematorium and gas chambers. At the time I was there, there was a sign that said the gas chambers were never used there. Beyond Barrack X was an area where the SS used to execute prisoners and an old cemetery which was not open at the time. We did not stay long there. The area around Barrack X had felt wrong somehow. I would say “disturbing” but even that seems inadequate.

Various religious memorials are also in Dachau as well. I remember seeing the exteriors of most of these memorials, including Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant memorials. I recall all of them being locked during our visit.

Lastly, I remember standing on the other side of the camp, along the wall where the electrified fence used to be. There, I looked around, noting the stone foundations where the barracks had once stood. I had felt profound sorrow as I gazed about. A chill had entered me that I wasn’t able to shake even though the sun was warm. The aura of the place as a whole was eerie, almost as if it had its own energy. The guys reunited with us there. I remembered that most of us had said we felt something strange and decided to go back to the bus. We were done.

To this day, I still cannot explain the feeling I had experienced there. I suspect that Dachau was and remains a place of troubled spirits or a place where the very air was imprinted with the horror that happened there. I would be curious to go back and see if I would still feel the same feelings I did the last time I was there.

Words do not adequately describe the experience of Dachau. To understand fully, you must go to a concentration camp yourself. The Holocaust was real. I have seen what some have vehemently denied or forgotten. The message transcribed in the Dachau memorial should not be taken lightly, “Never again.”


© Copyright 2019 TheresaVan18. All rights reserved.

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