An update from Zohra, a junior pre-law and psychology major with minors in human rights and Latin:
Today we started out in Hamburg, where we first went to the Rose Garden. The Rose Garden was created as a memorial at the murder site of 20 children and two or three doctors. These people were killed on April 20, 1945, as a gift to Adolf Hitler. They were child experiments of SS Doctor Kurt Heissmeyer from Neuengamme Concentration Camp. In order to clean the site [Neuengamme], the SS moved them over to the Bullenhuser Damm Satellite Camp. They were killed by hanging via meathooks in the basement of a building. These children were ages 5-12.
Interestingly enough, the building where they were murdered is still functioning: It is used as a grammar school, complete with a playground bordering the memorial. For most if not all of us on the trip, that was highly strange. These children and teachers come here every day where innocent children were cruelly killed; it is understandable, but highly unreal.
After paying our respects at the Rose Garden, we went over to Neuengamme concentration camp itself. Buildings of the camp that are no longer in existence today were marked off by massive rock re-creations, while one had been re-created into the exhibition center. This exhibition center was phenomenal in showcasing the horrors of the Holocaust. Throughout the exhibit, there were multiple remnants of both prisoner and SS life. This included the multiple files of registrations (at right), with one drawer a quarter of the way open out of multiple file cabinets. The meticulousness of the SS was as if they were keeping inventory, because after much dehumanizing that’s all the prisoners were to the Nazi regime.
The basement in the Exhibition building has not been renovated and maintains its integrity: You can tell the second you cross over from the modernistic exhibition over to the decaying concrete steps. Your nose is the first to alert you to this. I have truly never smelt anything like it and in fact my eyes teared: not from the mustiness of the smell, no, but from the pain that swept over as I crossed the threshold. I was not able to stay long in the basement simply because it became too hard to bear to remain in there for too long. However, that only snapshots the immense emotional impact of the exhibition.
Out of the exhibition, we went to the brick factory. Luckily for us we were able to go beyond the gates inside the blank building. The kind man that let us in was an Episcopalian Polish pastor who brings any interested congregation members to see the camps over the weekends; he found out via our travel liaison, who is also Polish, that we were students. Upon learning this, the kind man used his master key and rusty English to give us a special tour of the untouched part of the building where the laborers worked (at left). The coldness of the cement combined with the cool outside weather (about 46 degrees F) had us freezing within 10 minutes with winter coats on. To imagine hundreds of prisoners in thin clothing would work through the cold winters of Germany to stay alive, for hours, days, weeks, months and years on end.
Though most of the sites we have been to thus far have been sterilized from the pain, it is still able to pierce through the modernistic facade and hit you hard. Today has set the tone for the majority of the trip: It will be a very awe-inspiring visit marked with memories of the experienced pain.