Yesterday, if I can restate what might be slightly obvious, was Yom HaShoah (that’s Holocaust Remembrance Day for the gentiles out there). Perhaps in a move far too fitting, the field trip class I’m taking decided to take a trip to Oranienburg, just outside of Berlin, to visit Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
I didn’t really know what to expect — I’ve done the Holocaust memorial thing before, but going to the actual place where hundreds, if not thousands, died is an entirely different beast. In was frankly unnerving walking down the main entrance to the camp, barbed wire fences on one side and houses on the other.
Beyond that, I’m not really sure how to string together my thoughts, and so I’m not going to. Instead, I leave you with the fragments that came to mind.
Sachsenhausen is strange in that it is more of a museum than a mausoleum — when liberated by the Red Army in 1945, the Soviets converted it into a monument commemorating the brave communists who resisted Nazi guards. That shrine mentality is the main focus of the camp. All the barracks save two have been torn down.
I was thrown by the eerie beauty of the place. I always had imagined these places were eternally stormy, dark, dead — but Sachsenhausen in spring is alive and vibrant and green. It is beautiful in a way nothing that ugly has a right to be, unnatural in its naturalness.
Now, I’m a fourth-generation Jewish America. My first ancestor in the US immigrated in the 1890s. So the Holocaust is always more of an abstraction to me than to some of my Jewish friends, but I don’t think that makes it any less powerful of a memory. It is my duty to remember the depths to which humanity can plummet, to remember the cousins and aunts and uncles whose names I don’t even know, to remember everything.