Visiting A Concentration Camp: The Most Important Thing I've Ever Done
I love traveling for so many reasons. Learning about culture, seeing things that are completely new and trying new food are just some of those. But it's not always about having fun. Often the most important experiences you'll have in your life are also the hardest ones. Spending time visiting a concentration camp while in Germany was not something that everyone would be interested in, but it remains one of the most profound and moving experiences I've ever had.
It was a six hour drive to Berlin, but when we found out that we would be passing pretty close to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp, there was no question that we needed to stop.
Our little group had just spent the last two weeks traveling from London to France to Heidelberg to all over Italy, Austria and Switzerland. So far it had been full of history, delicious food, and beautiful scenery. Visiting a place filled with so much tragedy and injustice might seem like the best way to put a damper on things, but I knew that it was too much of an important historical and cultural experience to pass up.
Do you remember what it was like to learn about the Holocaust? I remember thinking that it couldn't actually have happened, and certainly not so recently in the world's history. Even as a six-year-old, the horrors of what happened during WWII were not wasted on me.
This wasn't supposed to be fun. I wasn't visiting it as a tourist attraction, but strictly as a place of learning and contemplation. I believe it is so important to remember and study history. How else are we supposed to progress and overcome?
It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. - Primo Levi
I remember that day so clearly. Partly because of the wide range of emotions I went through, and partly because of how distinctly the weather changed when we arrived at the camp. It was so sunny and warm, but we were met with a torrential downpour and an overcast sky almost immediately after we parked. I found it uniquely fitting.
Talking about what it's like to visit a place of death, terror, and unimaginable pain is difficult, to say the least.
Talking about what I saw and how I felt is almost impossible. You can feel the weight of broken souls and hearts. Every sound is eerily loud.
In all honesty, it's something you really have to experience for yourself.
You are quite literally walking in the footsteps of thousands of people who never left that camp.
You walk around with your arms folded close to you as a sort of shield. Taking picture seems inappropriate, yet completely necessary because people need to remember that this really happened.
There is not a speck of doubt that unspeakably tragic things happened on these grounds. There is no doubt as to the death, decay and inhumanity that took place.
It cannot be forgotten. It cannot be denied.
Travel is about leaving your comfort zone. It's about facing your fears and feeling completely out of your element. Travel isn't all about luxury resorts and white sand beaches - it needs to be so much more.
Putting yourself in places and situations that make you feel a little uncomfortable, a little scared, or maybe a little bit frightened is what it's all about. Travel, in my eyes, is about learning. Expanding your horizons.
This was a hard day. Emotionally draining. Heartbreaking.
But it's the most important travel experience I've ever had.