I recently visited / walked thorough the Buchenwald concentration camp. People thought I was a little crazy and warped to want to visit a place which by no means, could bring any sense of joy to the heart. but, I wanted to visit; I wanted to understand this difficult and gruesome chapter of German history. I have always believed that it is important to know history, it helps us to perhaps not repeat the same offenses in future. It makes us appreciate the peace the still surrounds us.
Coincidentally it happens to be the 28th of April today. What’s so special about 28th of April you may ask. Well, 28th of April has been earmarked as the Holocaust Remembrance Day.
I am a little ashamed to say, that my only understanding of what the Holocaust was about was a bit from reading Anne Frank’s famous and much published diary. I had seen some pictures of the concentration camps, but they could never trigger in me the sense of understanding and pain of the millions. The visit to Buchenwald concentration camp certainly did help me understand a bit of the painful history.
I saw the face of evil, even after so many years. The vast camp looks beautiful from the outside. But, one look at the prisoner cells, the crematorium, the doctor’s chamber ( which has been preserved)..evoke a strong sense of disbelief and horror. To think this did not happen too many years ago; come on 1937-45 ( the years when the camp was in full-operation) was not that long ago! To think that a genocide of this magnitude happened in the 20th century! The thought that kept crossing my mind, how did the perpetuators manage to conceal the camp ongoings from the people in the nearby town of Weimar. It is a discomforting feeling to know that Weimar town is a mere 20 minute drive away from the Buchenwald concentration camp; one of the largest on German soil! In spite of it not being traditionally a extermination camp; approximately 58, 000 people died here; Jews, Poles, the disabled, the sick the old and young.
The camp premises are HUGE! I tried walking the entire premises, it was tough; especially since it was chilly ( approx. 2 degrees Centigrade/35 Fahrenheit) and very windy; I could only just imagine what it must have been like for prisoners with almost no clothes and food in their stomachs. No wonder many prisoner deaths took place due to sheer exhaustion. In the permanent museum in Buchenwald, I saw some very stark pictures of how the camp was on the day it was liberated, 11th April 1945. Unbelievable, is the word that comes to my mind. The thought that crossed my mind..”How could one reduce a fellow human being to this state”? I am glad all this is preserved for future generations and people to see, and learn from history.
I learnt that many Nazi SS women were as or perhaps even more cruel that the men! One of the most famous was known as the ‘Witch of Buchenwald’ Kate Winslet’s character, in the award winning Hollywood movie, ‘The Reader’, is apparently loosely based on this famous lady, known as Ilse Koch.
One of the best takeaways from my visit to the Buchenwald concentration camp, was the discovery of the 1986 Nobel peace-prize winning author, Eliezer “Elie” Wiesel. He happens to be a survivor of the Buchenwald camp. Wiesel was a mere 17 year old boy when the camp was liberated in 1945. I discovered Wiesel’s books, at the store for visitors, at the camp. Wiesel writes with such simplicity; but his words evoke such emotions and feelings. Especially his autobiographical book titled, ‘Night’; a slim 115-paged book of terrifying power. In his book Night, Wiesel talks about his experience of living and surviving in the Buchenwald camp.
Would I recommend a visit to Buchenwald camp? Yes, I would. It is imperative that we do not forget this chapter of history. This was reality. Many genocides, apart from this have happened, it is very important that the world knows and understands the implications of such genocides.
In agreement with Elie Wiesel’s following words..
The world did know and remained silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.
To forget a holocaust is to kill twice