A Concentration of Holocaust Horrors

Sachsenhausen 67

The winner of this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Film was the Hungarian drama Son of Saul. In the movie, a concentration camp inmate receives special treatment from the Nazi guards because he assists with post-execution clean-up. To be more specific, he separates the corpses from their gold fillings, eyeglasses, and wedding rings.

I haven’t seen the film so I cannot say for certain which camp the story was set in, but the premise seems in line with tales I have been told at all three “death camps” that I have had the opportunity to visit. In 2000, I toured Auschwitz-Birkenau, in southern Poland. In 2009, I visited Dachau, in Bavaria. Finally, in 2012, I explored Sachsenhausen, in the former East Germany. Three different places, three sobering experiences.

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Germany: A Love Affair

This past November 9th marked 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. That historic day in 1989 saw the reunification of a divided country following three decades of Cold War hostilities. The transition wasn’t perfect, but it was a non-violent and triumphant event for a small corner of Europe that, throughout much of the 20th century, had seen (and often instigated) more than its fair share of violent, non-triumphant happenings.

I was a freshman in high school when the Wall came down. My German I course was the last class of the day, if I remember correctly, and although it was my favorite class, I nevertheless was an ADHD-addled teenager without much interest in actually learning. My German teacher, Frau Francik, entered the classroom, beaming, and said that something very important had happened. She spent the entire hour explaining the history leading up to the day’s monumental event. She shared her memories of leading a class trip to Germany and crossing Checkpoint Charlie, the designated border crossing for Americans between East and West Berlin. We were impressed and not a little bit scared.

It wasn’t until my junior year of high school that our class had the opportunity to visit Germany over Spring Break. Frau Francik decided to focus on just Bavaria this time around, saving a still-in-transition Berlin for another time perhaps. Alas, I didn’t have the money to go, but I promised myself that one day, I would make it to Germany.

It was a promise I kept…many times over.

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