Thursday, December 9, 2010

Day Three – Visit to Former Concentration Camp

The day started with a nice seven mile run, an out and back on Prenzlauer Alle. I do love running in new cities. I only wish it weren’t so dark so late into the morning; right now, there is only daylight from 8am until roughly 4pm.

I’m embarrassed to say it, but I was underwhelmed by my visit to Sachenhausen, the former concentration camp. I theorized that it was because I had visited the US Holocaust Museum in DC and Jerusalem and seen the Memorial in Boston that it was my expectation that I’d just feel numb. However, that was not the case. After a presentation on the history of the camp by our guide, Stefan, we toured the grounds. It was a cold, dreary day that seemed to get colder as the day worn on. The camp is surrounded by houses and it feels like it is a park in the middle of the neighborhood. Maybe I was numb because this was a work camp and not an extermination camp, and most of the inmates were political prisoners and not very many Jews. I’m not sure about the implications of that statement or how I feel.

At the start of the tour, we were standing by a building that used to be used by the SS but now was being used by police for training. It was just outside the confines of the camp, and as we were standing there, German policed started yelling and ran to these two men. It was just a drill, a sting operation, but it unnerved many in the group to hear and see this.

As we were departing, Doug reported to the front desk he saw a swastika on the men’s bathroom stall. Police were alerted, his information recorded, and our tour leader contacted. It was disgusting that it happened, yet reassuring that the Germans took this very seriously.

When we returned to the hotel, we had a discussion. Each person offered a thought, going around the room, and then the floor was open for comment. Here are some of the comments:

- It was interesting how people lived so close yet really didn’t do much. It took two months before a lady living in the town wrote a letter to the head of the camp complaining about the smell of burning flesh.
- Interesting how bad economy leads to depression
- Notion of today’s freedom in contrast with our ancestors
- “Smaller things” make Shoah worse
- Shocking how close to the town the camp was and really not far from Berlin
- “Who could possibly want to live next to a camp? A former camp?”
- How cold it was and we had proper clothes – the prisoners did not.
- Impressed with response of sensitivity of current Germans and impressed that it is funded by German government and that this program is staffed mostly by non-Jews.
- Former SS barracks shouldn’t be used as police training
- Discussed singing of anthem at sporting events and nationalism

After, we went to dinner nearby. The food was pretty good, but we took so long (three hours) that we didn’t have time to go out after for Elana (pronounced like Iguana)’s birthday for karaoke. Instead, we found an Irish pub nearby. And then, bed.

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