Have you ever wondered what you would have written about if blogs existed when you were younger? Well I don’t have to wonder anymore. During a recent trip to my parents’ house, I discovered a journal that I kept when I was seventeen and on my first trip to Europe with a large group of high school musicians. I read the entire thing from cover to cover in one sitting, laughing out loud as I remembered a certain boy who I wrote, “kisses like Eric,” (was that good or bad?) and a certain girl: “I’m glad to see she’s still a fat bitch.” As I read about hairstyles and hijinks, gelato and jealousy, I vacillated between embarrassment and awe until I eventually came across my entry from July 2nd, 1995 – the day after our group’s trip to Dachau.
“We went to Dachau in Germany. On a field directly next to the concentration camp a group of young German kids were laughing and playing soccer – or “football” – in the sun. In between the two fields was a row of old pine trees. The things that those trees must have seen and heard…
As we walked from the happy children through the dark trees, we came upon a grassy field identical to that where the kids were playing. Only, this time the field was surrounded by rusted barbed wire. There were huge cement columns that were used to hold the great spotlights that would prevent escape from this horrible prison. They also held the fence that enclosed these poor people into their dark world.
As we walked past the first tower into the gravel courtyard, I tried to remember and comprehend that the steps that I was taking were the steps that people took on the way to their brutal execution, to their annihilation. Bodies of innocent people once lay where I stood.
We walked through the dorm – not the prison, the dorm – where people were forced to “live” under inhumane conditions. They were stacked like packaged goods on shelves, their whole way of life altered.
We walked past a sign that said “Never Again” in English, Russian, French, and most importantly, Hebrew. For some reason the sign did not seem the comforting reassurance that it should be. An artist’s metal, cold interpretation of the bodies of Dachau’s victims loomed above us. 1933 to 1945. My heart ached.
We wandered slowly through the museum and stared in disbelief at walls and walls of pictures and documents from when the concentration camp was run. A small boy, a victim of his time. Suicides, the ones who chose to wait no longer for their imminent death. And the lucky ones, those who somehow survived until their liberation. But their hearts and souls were still in Dachau, and we felt them.
We did not have time to make the short hike to the crematorium, the fiery monster that destroyed the evidence of the race of people who had their lives stolen from them. Their identity – mocked and denied. We felt regret that we were not able to walk through the row of towering trees to the crematorium. How many lived in terror that they would soon be traveling that very path that we now wished to take?
We left the place with tears in our eyes and clouds over our hearts, but we received a beautiful gift. The gift of memory. Now, for all those who say it does not exist, it did not happen, we can say we were there – we saw – we felt – and we’ll remember. After all, ‘Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.’
This post was originally published on August 28, 2008.