It’s one thing learning about something like the holocaust and nazis and concentration camps in a classroom, but it’s a totally different thing experiencing history where it actually occurred. While in Austria for choir tour, the group and I visited the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp and it was quite an experience.
For once, our whole group was completely silent. We all had our audio guides up to our ear and walked around each site as we heard the gruesome details of what actually occurred behind those brick walls. It’s scary to think about the thousands upon thousands of people that suffered at the very grounds we were walking upon.
One of the first places I made my way to was the rock quarry. After walking down almost 200 jagged steps, I made it down to the fields where prisoners would have to break up rocks so they could help build their own prison. Striped shirts with only a number sewed to it for identification purposes served as the uniform for the countless men who made the dreaded climb up the stairs with rocks upon their backs. Many of them were forced to wear wooden shoes instead of work boots. This caused them to form awful blisters and many people died trying to make it up and down those stairs. At the very top was a ledge where soldiers would tease prisoners and push them, yelling “Hope you can fly!” and other obscenities.
After that, I made my way into the camp. Upon first sight all you see are rows of cabins. From the outside the buildings look like cabins you’d see at a summer camp, but once inside the tiny bunks and dirty walls and shut up windows make your mind start to wander. People didn’t live comfortably. The prisons were overflowing with people so there would be 5-6 people to a bed at times. Showers were pretty much non-existent. They lived in their own filth. Disease spread like wild fire. They were underfed, overworked, and stripped of human dignity.
The final place I visited was the gas chambers. Talk about being speechless. All I could do was heavily sigh, cry, and shake my head. Prisoners thought they were finally getting a chance to shower and instead they were piled into rooms like pigs getting ready to go to the slaughterhouse. Gas was their poison as soldiers stood outside and watched through a peephole. A dissecting table lay in a isolated room for those prisoners marked with tattoos. Doctors were told to cut pieces of their skin off that were marked with interesting tattoos so that the skin could be made into various accessories for the soldiers. Crowns were yanked out of prisoner’s mouths. Once they were stripped of such they were horrendously killed.
Humans did all of that…to one another. Disgusting isn’t it? Humans are capable of such evil and the sad thing is that we still do the same things today. We ostracize one another because of the color of our skin or because of our social status or because of generations before us that have sowed feelings of hate deep in our souls. History shouldn’t be repeated, but as people we still haven’t fully learned our lesson. Though we may not put people in concentration camps, we still paralyze people with fear, we cripple people’s spirits, and we crush people’s dreams, when we don’t treat one another as equals.