Dachau Concentration Camp, Dachau, Germany
Basic History: Dachau was the first of the many concentration camps that the Nazis built and it served as the model for future installations all over Europe. It was built primarily to house political prisoners and it also became the training ground for future SS officers. Americans soldiers liberated the camp in 1945 and there is a plaque dedicated to them on the main entrance.
What Makes It Unique: It is deceivingly small relative to other concentration camp memorial sites. As a visitor, there is a sense of chilling intimacy within the grounds. Even the walk towards the entrance was serene, almost inviting, but those feelings will quickly dissolve and be replaced by sadness and sorrow as one crosses over the gate that contains what is perhaps the most famous of all Nazi propaganda phrases, “Arbeit macht frei” – in English “Work makes (you) free”.
My Personal Thoughts: The first thing that struck me upon arriving there was how normal the town looked. Photographs showed that the areas surrounding the camp have not changed much since it opened in 1933. A visit to any memorial site where mass killings were committed is definitely not for the faint of heart, but I will highly recommend anyone to do it once at least once. To me, places like this teaches us about the true meaning of hate and the consequences of such sentiment. After my visit here, my understanding of tolerance deepened and it made me more conscientious about my feelings of animosity towards something or someone.
Anne Frank House, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Basic History: Anne Frank, the young girl whose diary captivated the world, revealed intimate details of her experiences while hiding from the Nazis. For years, hers and another Jewish family lived in a secret “annex” located behind the building where Anne’s father Otto, used to run his business. The families probably would have survived if not for the person who betrayed them to the Gestapo.
What Makes It Unique: It brings literature to life and it cannot get more personal than that. The museum is housed in the actual building itself. It preserved many of its original artifacts and kept the rooms the family stayed in as they were. The exhibits feature items such as clothing and accessories of Anne and her sister, Margot, as well as the furnishings in the dining area used by the families.
My Personal Thoughts: When I went, all I can remember was thinking how small everything was and how difficult it must have been to live comfortably within its four walls. It may sound like a cliché, but being in that location made me sincerely appreciate how fortunate I am to be living in a relatively peaceful world.
The Marais District and The Shoah Memorial Museum, Paris, France
Basic History: The Marais District has been home to the Jewish community in Paris for centuries. Of the 175,000 Jews that lived there during the 1940s, more than 25% of them were arrested by the Gestapo and sent to concentration camps. The majority of them were children. Evidence of these events are commemorated through plaques placed on surviving buildings, and in 2005, a new museum dedicated to the victims and survivors of The Holocaust called The Shoah Memorial Museum was opened. Shoah is the preferred term by the French.
What Makes It Unique: Unlike other Holocaust memorial museums, this one largely focuses on the events that affected French Jews. The museum also has a library and an extensive archive of documents, photographs, and other personal effects that once belonged to the Jewish residents of The Marais. One of its most touching section is the one about the 11,000 murdered Jewish French children, many of them came from the schools not too far from the museum’s location. Lastly, the outdoor memorial wall has all the names, 76,000 in total, of every French Jew sent to death camps from 1942-1944. It is one of the most haunting memorials I have ever seen.
My Personal Thoughts: My comprehension of the French language was not as polished then as it is now. However, my heart still ached upon reading the commemorative plaques scattered around the neighborhood. After reading a few, I realized that the messages they were trying to convey did not require translating.
This post is continued in Part 2 Holocaust Remembrance Day