I remember vividly the first time I visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC. There is a quiet in the museum, like no other place I’d been to.
Within the museum is a boxcar. I recall with absolute clarity stepping into that boxcar. There was a heaviness that surrounded me as I stood in the wooden darkened train car. The scent of the dank, musty wood filled my senses. The hushed din of the museum fell silent as I soaked in the reality of this boxcar’s purpose.
Though I was 16 at the time, I understood the gravity of what I was taking in. At least I thought I did. Until I stepped foot into Sachsenhausen.
Last May I was blessed with traveling to Europe. My trip took me to memorial sites and museums dedicated to World War II and the Holocaust.
One of the first locations I had the honor of visiting was the memorial site Sachsenhausen. This former concentration camp is in Oranienburg, about 30 minutes north of Berlin. Sachsenhausen was the administrative center for all other concentration camps and served as a training ground for SS Officers.
Sachsenhausen primarily was used to house political prisoners. This concentration came imprisoned some 200,000 people over the span of its existence. One of the many things Sachsenhausen was used for was to determine the most efficient and effective execution method for use in the death camps. Medical experiments were also performed there.
I don’t think I spoke the entire time I was within the walls of Sachsenhausen. I carried the same heavy feeling I had when I was 16 with each step I took throughout the camp.
That same silent heaviness surrounded me as I passed through the Holocaust Memorial in downtown Berlin. A simple memorial that somehow conveyed so much. It was clear as I walked I was not the only one that felt the same power of the memorial.
Words cannot describe how I felt walking into the forest of the Rumbula massacre. Now a beautiful memorial site, this location is where about 25,000 Jews were slaughtered over a week’s time in 1941. This forest which once was filled with hate is now awash with love and remembrance.
Today we remember and honor those who perished in the Holocaust. Though I have tried, words cannot properly convey the power of experiencing these locations and the history they hold.
It is important we remember how the Holocaust began. It is also important we remember how it ended.
The best way we can honor those whose lives were brutally and unnecessarily stolen is to ensure history does not repeat.