One of the things I really wanted to do while in Germany was visit a concentration camp. The German people are very open about The Holocaust and in my experience are eager to share and discuss about that dark time in their history in hopes that it will never happen again.
The Hampes decided to take us to a site that is about an hour away from Hamburg, but due to differences in pronunciation, it was not until we were almost that that I realized that we were going to Bergen-Belsen, the camp where Anne Frank was held and died, along with everyone in her family except her father.
I wasn't sure what to expect upon our arrival, and even now I'm not sure if I can describe what is was like to be there. As soon as I walked through the gates, I felt the weight of solemnity and significance that this place holds.
One of the things that struck me the most was the stark beauty of the land, which is in direct contrast to the evil purpose for which it was used.
If you click on the above picture, you will see the remains of one of the barracks, barely visible behind the crude wooden fence. All of the barracks have been removed.
There was a beautiful exhibition hall that provided an excellent timeline of the sad history of Bergen-Belsen. In addition to being a Nazi concentration camp, the Third Reich also used the camp as an internment place for Russian POWs. Many pictures survive from that time, along with personal accounts that paint a gruesome picture of what life was like for the prisoners. Because the Russians were the enemy, Hitler ordered that they not be treated according to the Geneva Convention guidelines. Reading about what life was like for those human beings was heart-rending. All over the exhibition hall there were televisions that featured short testimonies from persons imprisoned or otherwise associated with Bergen-Belsen. I am so grateful that their stories were preserved. More information about the exhibition hall can be found here.
In this picture you can see a water basin. Although it was not intended for drinking, people were forced by lack of clean supplies to drink the filthy water in the days leading up to liberation. This lead to certain death from disease. Despondent prisoners also drowned themselves in the water.
Mass graves such as this one were numerous - they hold bodies of persons that died only after the camp was liberated. Each grave held about 1000 people, and I'd say there were about 15 of them. Before liberation, bodies were disposed of by burning.
There were memorials from many relgious groups and nations:
I almost lost it when I saw the memorial below. There were gravestrones erected in memory of several people, but they are symbolic only; the bodies of the people have been lost.
Anne Frank has held a special place in my heart ever since reading her diary as a little girl, and I read many more books written about her in my teenage years. As a youngster, it was through her that I first realized that evil existed in this world, and as a young adult, it was through her that I learned that people can rise above evil and live a positive life, no matter what the circumstances.
A monument from the Nation of Israel, with appropriate and poignant words. Click to read.
Although visiting Bergen-Belsen was not “fun,” it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I am grateful to the German people who erected the museum and memorial in hopes that one of the darkest events in history not be repeated.