Last weekend (September 1st-2nd) I went with my Holocaust and Genocide class to Hamburg, Germany!
Our first stop was a visit to the Bullenhuser Damm School. This place, now used as a kindergarten, is the site where 20-30 children were experimented on by Nazis as part of the Neuengamme Camp. Here those children were murdered, along with 20 Soviet POWs, and now there is a rose garden commemorating their lives.
Rough translation: "Here you stand in silence, but when you leave, do not be silent."
After the short visit to the school, we went to our hostel. The place was so much nicer than I expected. Each room had its own bathroom and there was even a bar on the ground floor! We had the rest of the day to do what we wanted so before dinner I decided to go to the Kunsthalle Art Museum. This museum has the largest collection of German Renaissance art, along with pieces by Monet, Picasso, and Salvador Dali (my favorite). There was also this really creepy/odd/incredibly fascinating exhibit on Alice in Wonderland. Here are some photos from the museum:
Carl Blechen- Stormy Sea with Lighthouse (1826)
Claude Monet- Pears and Grapes (1880)
Creepy display in the Alice in Wonderland exhibit...
One of Dali's pieces, but I didn't write down the name
I wish I could say I went on the ferris wheel...but no :(
I don't think anyone understands how much I love fireworks... it's kind of a little bit ridiculous
The view from the top of the tower! (gargoyle)
Even though I've been skydiving, I still get scared of heights...don't look down!
The trip culminated with the visit to the site of the Nazi concentration camp- Neuengamme (I hate to use wikipedia, but this link has good pictures and lots of basic information). This camp was built by the Nazis in 1938 as a labor camp. Most of its prisoners were POWs, political adversaries, many Soviets, and a few Jews (who were there not because of religious reasons, but because of their political views). It is estimated that over its seven-year operation around 50,000 of the 100,000 people who passed through its gates died in the camp. I have had previous experience visiting concentration camps. My freshmen year of college I went with my professor and a group of students to Poland for two weeks, over Christmas, in the middle of winter. Let's just say the weather was not in our favor, and most of the time we were trudging through two feet of snow. However, it's hard to complain about the freezing temperatures when you realize how bundled up you are, and the lack of protection from the elements that the Nazis' victims faced. You don't forget experiences like that, and every new Holocaust or genocide site I visit is just as important as the first one I set foot in. My experience at Neuengamme was very different than my experiences in Poland, mainly because we couldn't have picked a more beautiful day to go. In the middle of the gorgeous German countryside, you can't help but be captivated by the tall trees and lush green grass that surrounds you... you almost forget where you're standing.
I can't describe to you what it's like to see a concentration camp. Every person has his or her own unique reaction. What I can tell you is that it changes you. It changes the way you look at the world, and maybe, just maybe, that spark of change will grow and you will continue learn about the subject, and hopefully live your life with a new sense of reality: Genocide happens, it shouldn't, and when you educate yourself, spread that education to others. With knowledge comes action, and with remembrance comes prevention. I could go on and on and on (I am a human rights major after all...) but I highly recommend that you see a place like this for yourself. It makes those facts in the history books much more real.
The corn field across the road from the camp
The guard tower
The piles of stones represent the place where wooden barracks once stood to house the prisoners
The site of standing cells if a prisoner "acted out" not enough to be killed, but enough to suffer more. The irony of having a prison within a prison...
My professor is an amazing man. Here he stands where the crematorium once stood. No gas chambers here, but they still needed a place to dispose of the bodies.
The canal built by the prisoners. It took two years.
If you look closely, you will notice an interesting Nazi design in the windowpane. In almost all concentration camp sites, swastikas or symbolic swastikas have been removed from the buildings. This is the first one I've ever seen, and the only one my professor knows to still be in existence (unless it's in a museum).
Where roll would be called every morning and every night. The Germans were so meticulous with numbers that in one instance the roll-call lasted over 24 hours.
The main industrial component of the camp: the brick factory. The ground in this area is perfect for making bricks, so the prisoners were put to work in wet, muddy trenches to dig up the clay. The natural elements were brutal, causing the majority of fatalities. Imagine, dying by something as minuscule as a mosquito bite.
I think this is enough of a blog post for now, so I will post tomorrow about my core program's study tour of Denmark and Sweden. Lots more stories to tell (along with historical fun facts and the politics of the Danish Navy that I'm sureee you will find fascinating).
To end on a lighter note though, since I know the topic of genocide isn't an easy one to think about as you start your week... here's a video of Hakuna Matata from The Lion King:
Added bonus: it's in Danish...