An important, difficult day
David Birrer '11: Today’s theme in our Berlin immersion trip was Jewish history and the Holocaust. We started the day by traveling to Oranienburg, which is north of Berlin, to see the Nazi concentration camp, Sachsenhausen. Walking to the street to the entrance of the camp and seeing the stone and barb wire wall was very surreal, and it was amazing and saddening at the same time to be at a place that has such a sad place in history.
Going past the outer gates and heading towards the actual camp, the first thing that immediately caught my eye was the gate that read, “Arbeit Macht Frei,” or in English, “Work will set you free.” I’ve always loved history, and especially the history of WWII, and so seeing this gate, which is pictured in most textbooks, was especially poignant. Inside the camp, the first thing that caught my eye was the expanse. Textbooks and movies do not give you a true picture of the expanse of the concentration camps, and it was stunning.
In the Sachsenhausen trip, I think the most memorable part for me will be the history exhibit that was in one of the reconstructed Jewish barracks. In the barracks, I could see the sleeping quarters, restrooms, and meal quarters of the Jews, and what struck me the most was how confined the space was, how there was no privacy or space, and how unlivable the situation was. Seeing the condition first hand definitely made me appreciate the privacy and freedom that we take for granted at home. Overall, going to a concentration camp has had an effect on me, and experiencing the history first hand is something I will always remember.
After Sachsenhausen and lunch, we visited the German Jewish History Museum. By far, the most poignant part of this trip was walking through the memorial in the museum called the, “Shalachet,” or “Fallen Leaves.” In the exhibit, you walk towards stone balconies on what the museum refers to as leafs, but what are actually flat faces carved in iron. The faces gave a ringing sound that combined with the voices of tourists to create the ringing sound of people crying or calling in the exhibit. It’s hard to describe the emotional response, but it was extremely powerful, and it’s something that will always stick with me. It was an amazing way to remember the people of the past. So far, the memorials and places that we have visited have had a profound impact on me, and it has been amazing to be in places that have such storied histories.
~David Birrer Wabash ‘11