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  • Saturday, May 26, 2012 is the day I first stepped foot in a Nazi concentration camp. We took public transport to the small town of Oranienburg where Sachsenhausen awaited us. What was it going to be like? How would I react? Would I cry? Would it be hideous and wrought with everything that took place there?

    I remember all of these questions going though my mind as we walked from the train station to the camp. Was I actually ready for this? Because you might think you're preparing yourself by reading the texts and poems and watching the films, and while all of that helps, there is absolutely nothing like actually walking to a site of such horror and sorrow.

    When we finally got there, all I could think was how beautiful it was. But how can that be? How can such a horrible place still be green and blue and bright in the day's sun? I don't know, but it is. The grass still grows, covering up the graves that lie beneath it and the sky is blue and the sun is shining and it's hot and you're tempted to complain but then you realize where you are and think twice about that particular thought.

    Walking around Sachsenhausen was probably one of the strangest experiences of my life. Being there, you could finally kind of imagine what it was actually like for the prisoners and what they experienced on a daily basis. But at the same time you actually have absolutely no idea about what they went through. The thoughts running through my mind were horrifying as I walked through the infamous site.

    Sachsehausen brought Christa Wolf and her book Patterns of Childhood to mind. She writes, “Having died – having survived – living, how can you tell one from the other? Once cannot speak of the dead. The survivors can look neither forward nor backward. The living are in free command of the past and the future. Of their experience, and of the conclusions it enables them to draw.”*

    This quotation made me think about what it must be like for survivors to go back to these sites and essentially relive what happened to them so many years ago, but what I’m sure feels like just yesterday for them. Only they have the ability to look back at what they went though and make the decision to either let the experience define their lives and who they are or they can choose to feel empowered and use their suffering as a tool to teach and inform the world so as to make sure something like the Holocaust never happens again

    *Christa Wolf, Patterns of Childhood, pg. 356
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