This past weekend I spent time in Hamburg, Germany, with my Holocaust and Genocide class. In Hamburg we got to immerse ourselves in a little bit of Holocaust history by visiting the Bullenhuser Damm School as well as Neuengamme Concentration Camp.
I can’t think of a better time to visit these places after just spending my summer learning about these sites in Dr. Halperin’s human rights class. It is one thing to sit in the classroom and hear the horrifying statistics of the number of individuals killed at these sites, but to touch the buildings and have a moment to reflect brings the issue even closer than I could have ever imagined.
Bullenhuser Damm School is the site where 20 Jewish children who had been used in medical experiments at Neuengamme, their four adult Jewish caretakers and six Red Army prisoners of war were killed in the basement. Today the building is used as a kindergarten, which I find hard to wrap my mind around because if I were a parent, I don’t know how I would feel about sending my kids to that school knowing the atrocious history behind it.
Neuengamme, perhaps one of the better-known concentration camps, started out as a subcamp of Sachsenhausen concentration camp until it was turned into an independent concentration camp in June 1940. After visiting genocide sites in Rwanda less than a month ago, I felt mentally prepared for what I was about to see. Although nothing can really prepare you to come face to face with genocide, I will admit that the genocide sites in Rwanda exposed my heart and my eyes to some of the most unimaginable and unbearable scenes.
This time around I wasn’t only thinking about the site or the victims whose lives ended there, but I just kept reminding myself of the cruel and heartless nature of mankind. I hate constantly reminding myself of this fact, but visiting sites like Neuengamme leaves me feeling frustrated with humanity and thinking, when will this ever end? Human begins waging merciless acts of violence and murder against one another?
Because as important as it is to commemorate these sites, I wish sites like Neuengamme never existed, and really it’s up to humanity to ensure there is never a need for another concentration or extermination camp. Nonetheless, I am still grateful that I got to visit these sites and simultaneously see Germany.