During the conclusion my "Euro-Trip" of 2007 I was sitting at my Grandmas place talking about WWII and specifically Concentration Camps and I asked her if she had ever been to one. She replied Yes and mentioned that she had been to Buchenwald outside of Weimar quite a few times. I thought it would be an amazing experience to go to one and thus hastily organised to get myself there. 2 or 3 days later it was all set up. I got on the bus, then train, then another bus totalling 2 hours travelling time and I arrived at what was the second biggest Concentration Camp during WWII - Buchenwald.
I must now say that it is by far the most surreal experience that anyone could ever have. I am an atheist with a complete lack of spirituality, but even I felt that there was something there - I could not quite put my finger on it, but I know that I will not forget that feeling for a long, long time.
I don't quite know how to explain it. I had decided to hire myself a personal tour computer. In short, its a little PDA they give you along with a map. At many places on the map, there are numbers - when you type the numbers into the PDA, you get a wealth of information about that particular area, what happened there, what it was used for, etc. When you look at the pictures on the PDA and hear about it all, it makes you feel a complete loss for humanity, wondering how in the world anyone could have been able to subject fellow human beings through such unbearable pain. But when you then look up, seeing the exact same scenario in the picture, the same trees, the same hills, the same buildings yet nowadays barren with nothing but tourists such as myself, you experience the most surreal emotions you could not even imagine.
It must be a combination of the beauty and the pain that was created in that sole place. And somehow none of that beauty and none of that pain has escaped from the lush landscapes in and around Buchenwald. There is pain in what the guards submitted the "inmates" to, but there is beauty in the ever persistent feeling that life just had to go on for the 250,000 stationed there. Only 50,000 made it out alive, but they left the mark of beautiful humanity on the land. You can truly feel it.
But what about the other 200,000 that weren't so lucky? Well that is where one of the moments I'll probably never forget in my life comes in to explain the story. I had been walking around for maybe an hour or so taking in everything I could when I got to the Crematorium. I walked around the top and marvelled at the fact that efficient German engineering could be applied so easily to genocide - bodies were lifed up from the cellar (which I will get to in a minute) up into the room with the incinerators where bed-like-carriers carted the dead into the incinerator where they became no more, vanished into smoke for eternity. It was a human-elimiantion-factory, made you question what it means to suffer, how easy we have it. But it got worse when I went around the back to the cellar. I doubt many tourists ever go there.
It was almost hidden. At the back of the Crematorium behind a wall was the entrance to the stairs that led down to the cellar where the bodies were kept. It felt eerily clinical at first, you could see the chutes where bodies were dropped down from the yard where the dead were loaded into karts and brought here. In the 60 years though since the end of the war, you can still very much feel the hatred eminating from the walls. And finally, to top it all off, when you tilt your head up just slightly, you see the hooks on the walls where people were hooked onto. Me having the visual mind I do freaked out more than anything I have ever before in my life. I felt instantly like I was worth nothing. I almost ran out of there wanting to cry but not being able to. I could feel the hatred almost enter to within me in the cellar. It was something I will never forget.
The entire 2 hour ride back to where I was staying I could not get that out of my head. And even now, more than a year later it is still vividly on my mind as if it were yesterday. Then I imagine what it must have been like for the people that truly lived through the horrors of a working Concentration Camp, that had to be subjected to the pain, the hatred, the constant thought that they could be shot, killed, incinerated within a matter of minutes for simply being who they are.
It truly makes you wonder and question your worth as a human being, wonder what is so important about us, makes us question the value of things we are taught to value when in the end all that really does matter is the fact that our hearts are beating along with those whose hearts beat with us.