One word that describes today: somber.
The main highlight of today was our visit to Dachau, the very first concentration camp established in Germany. We slowly trudged on the gray stones through the gate marked with the infamous German phrase meaning “Work makes you free” into the desolate open field where prisoners had stood for hours on end for roll call. Almost all of the buildings in the camp are original, except for the bunkers, which were reconstructed. A German history teacher showed us various parts of the camp, including the bunkers, the religious memorials, the museum exhibitions, the crematorium, and the gas chambers. He also extensively described how exceedingly poorly the victims of the Holocaust were treated at the camp, as well as how uncomfortable their living conditions were–there were very few single beds, and prisoners often had to share beds with more than one other person. Additionally, the guide explained what each of the colors of the triangles on their blue-and-white striped pajamas signified. The significance of this particular camp was that the vast majority of the prisoners had red triangles, which indicated that they were opponents of the Nazi party.
There were three main things I found especially interesting about this visit: firstly, not only was Dachau was the model after which other camps were built, but it was also one of the easiest camps to get out of since it was not an extermination camp. Furthermore, the tour guide explained that escaping the camp was not difficult; rather, figuring out what to do after escaping was significantly more difficult. This helped me to understand why many were unsuccessful in escaping and did not survive; most of the time, they got caught by other soldiers and received an additional circular marking on their pajamas to indicate that they had attempted to escape. Secondly, it is required for all students within Germany’s education system to visit a concentration camp. This makes complete sense because learning about the dark parts of Germany’s history helps ensure that the cruel events will not be repeated. This is quite similar to how Americans learn about racist parts of U.S. history, such as slavery during the Civil War and segregation during the Civil Rights Movement. In fact, the tour guide had made a strong point about how racism is still rampant throughout the world even today, so awareness of such graphic moments in history is extremely important. Thirdly, the tour guide showed us a very revealing document that provided evidence that German car companies such as BMW, Volkswagen, and Mercedes-Benz have brutally used concentration camp prisoners as slave labor during the Holocaust. His descriptions were quite detailed and graphic, and I was utterly shocked that even the most prestigious car brands had a dark past.
I believe today is the only somber day in the program. Tomorrow will definitely be much more exciting.