A few weeks before I traveled to Berlin with my sister for the weekend, I saw the photo that a former university colleague posted on Facebook. It was the entrance of a concentration camp, and she had subtitled it with the saying: “One of the most disturbing experiences of my life.”
After some research, I discovered that it was the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, located fairly close to Berlin (there are several companies that offer daily visits with guides fluent in English and German – the one responsible for our day trip was Insider Tour). I got morbidly excited with the prospect of going there; after all, it is one of the most horrific places created by man.
My expectations were that I would be strongly disturbed by the experience and that it would change all my life perceptions. When I was inside though, hearing the horrible daily life of who was detained there, all I could feel was sadness. No other being known by us can be more deliberately cruel than humans, and being there, looking at the vestiges of such a regrettable time, my heart broke. I was disturbed not on the level of shock (as I was already expecting to see what I saw), but with the hollowness of utter disappointment. The predominant thought was: Haven’t we been through enough already in all our years of existence? Haven’t we lived enough to understand how horrifying violence is? How could all of this even happen?
Our guide, Mike, said as soon as we got there: “In respect to the pain and suffering of those who lived here, the administration of the concentration camp asks that none of the photos taken here have a smile on it.” It seemed a very reasonable request. Of course, not everyone thought so. While visiting the accommodation buildings I saw a girl posing and smiling, and it made me feel disgusted. That’s not a happy place to be. You can’t be proud of where you are. You should feel ashamed that humans got so low as to create a place of such suffering. You don’t get to smile on this.
Then it occurred to me – I went there for almost the same reason, didn’t I? I wanted to see the horror so I could tell others about it (maybe not with a smile, but definitely with enthusiasm) and that in itself is a horror, one only caused and perpetuated by the human condition. I am sorry for the feeling that led me there, I admit, but not for how the experience affected me.
While we were there, the cloudy sky that was already gloomy since morning turned into a constant and occasionally too heavy rain. Seemed more than fitting for the mood: sad and pointless.
The only thing that brought some hope was the knowledge that they ended. The concentration camps were horrible and despicable, and people ended them. Our job now is making sure that they are never built or used again.