By Lindsey Riback Midwood High School Honorable Mention, Features
With snow covering the ground, on March 26, Midwood’s 27 students walked the same paths as did the prisoners of Dachau concentration camp in Germany, over 70 years ago.
“There was snow on the ground and it was really cold, but to imagine that the prisoners had to suffer through this cold for years with barely any clothing made it even more realistic,” said Miriam Avrutin ‘14.
The gates of the camp are inscribed with the words “Arbeit macht frei” meaning work sets you free, a contradiction because once the prisoners entered the camp they were merely a number, unwillingly handing over their freedom.
“I felt very fortunate that we got to leave,” said Lindsey Pero ‘13.
Upon entering the gates, Mr. Lawrence Kolotkin, group leader, advised his group that before they take a picture they should see themselves from the perspective of those who had died.
“What would they think of the picture that you have taken,” he asked.
Shortly after arriving at the entrance of the concentration camp, the students filed into the auditorium where they viewed a short documentary on the Nazi regime and the individual camp itself.
“It was very disturbing to see how the people were treated back then,” said Dominique Semple ‘15, “to see how they were dehumanized.”
Ms. Margaret Desimone, anatomy teacher, explained that the woman who made the film also runs a bookstore within the museum. This is the only store in the whole memorial site that does not keep their profit, but instead she donates all the money earned to the survivors.
When the film ended, the room was filled with an eerie silence as many were too appalled to speak.
Mr. Kolotkin said, “I feel that the movie helped set the stage of what the students saw at the camp. It really got to the point of what occurred there and why.”
Following the film, students were allowed to disperse in groups of four or more to explore the various areas of camp such as the museum, the barracks and the multiple religious buildings that were constructed to commemorate those who had perished.
“It was a weird experience, walking on the same ground the prisoners did, not even a century ago,” said Christopher Ayala ‘14. “Reading all the stories made me realize how good I have it, living in a time of diversity and in a city that accepts everyone for who they are without discrimination.”
While Midwood’s group took Mr. Kolotkin’s words into consideration and saw this trip as a reminder to be thankful for what they have, other tourist groups did not. For example, in the prisoner barracks, someone had disposed of their garbage in a displayed prisoner toilet and others left their litter on the prisoner paths.
Kathryn Whelehan ‘13 agreed, “We saw a lot of tourists taking smiling photos; we thought that it was disrespectful that they took it as a tourist attraction.”
Created on March 22, 1933 and originally designed as a camp for political dissidents, Dachau was Hitler’s model for the rest. According to http:// www.kz-gedenk-staette-dachau.de/index-e.html, over 200,000 people were imprisoned and 41,500 were murdered in Dachau. The camp was liberated on April 29, 1945 by American troops and the memorial site was established in 1965.
“Even hearing the rumors (of the horrors) it didn’t hit you until you were face to face with it,” said former flight science teacher Dr. Michael Starr.
Gas chambers were built on the grounds of the camp, however, they were never put to use. The group’s tour director, Petra, explained that the reason for this is unknown, but one possibility is that the camp was in such close proximity to the city that the Nazis did not want the people of Munich to smell the dead bodies.
“It was weird knowing that they had to do labor work without shoes and little to no food,” said Zaire Salisburg ‘16. “The living conditions were horrible and it was a crucial environment.”
This was just a half day stop on the group’s nine day tour of Austria, Germany and Switzerland, before they moved on to Dachau’s neighboring city of Munich.