You all know I’m German, you all know the history that Germany has and I never spoke and will never speak about this again, but this was a History lesson for the kids and I think it’s well worth sharing along with some of my views, fears and emotions. I hope you don’t mind and still will be here to visit my blog like you have been in the past. I’m not writing to point fingers, start a discussion or show my political views, this is JUST a Family Vacation and incorporating History of the Country we went to visit.
On our recent trip to Germany this summer, we spent some time with my Dad. He lives in the Rhoen and is about 5 minutes away from what once used to be the West German and East German Border. I was amazed, I had no idea that he was that close to the border and that my home town was only an hr. away from that border, hard to believe.
The East and West thing in Germany on paper is long over, the wall fell in 1989 and East and West became one Country. As most of you know, Germany has a long list of History and most is rather not been told. I’m not proud of our history, but none the less it is my history and I have to live with it just like many of us in the US have to live with other disasters and issues. My children are growing up learning that history in school and it’s easy for everyone in the US to teach German History or to talk about it, for me it’s still a sore spot. Not that I was growing up in east Germany, nor was I part of the Nazi generation, but the German history left a very very sore spot inside of me and just thinking back how it was brings me chills and I start to tear up and just don’t want to talk about it.
When my oldest son learned about German History in High school I wasn’t compelled for him to do research but one thing I drew the line and would not allow him to look at, research or even talk about, unfortunately he drew exactly THAT assignment (and I had to ask the teacher nicely to please change it)…. It is something that in Germany we just try not to talk about, maybe because we were always told it’s wrong don’t ever draw it, talk about it or even make any kind of comment about it, Sitting here almost in tears ( and scared that I may get in trouble…silly I know… I was brain washed) as I type this I’m sure you all know the symbol I will not spell out and will not talk about, that’s the one thing I will not allow to talk about even though it’s German History and a big part of it as well.
Anyways, while visiting my dad he suggested we take the 2 hr trip from his house into East Germany, yes, we still call it East and West just easier to comprehend. Not knowing what to expect I was kind of excited to give my boys a real history lesson and seeing maybe even smelling the fear and how things used to be. It’s different if you hear or read about it if you actually see it in person.
We arrived at Buchenwald Memorial, one of the first and biggest of the German Nazi concentration camps, established in 1937 near Weimar. I had no idea, I always heard about Dachau but had no idea that Buchenwald was one of the biggest.
In World War II it held about 20,000 prisoners, most of whom worked as slave laborers in nearby factories. Though there were no gas chambers, many perished through disease, malnutrition, exhaustion, beatings, and executions. Inmates were used to test the effects of viral infections and vaccines.
The former Buchenwald concentration camp, as it looks today, is one of the most depressing sights I have ever seen in my whole life, besides Dachau. It is mostly an empty, deserted expanse of gravel and black rocks which indicate where the barracks once stood; most of the buildings were burned down or blown up by the Soviet Union when they finally closed the camp in 1950.
Most of the other Nazi concentration camps that have been turned into memorial sites have beautiful monuments and places for religious worship or mourning on the grounds of the camp, but not Buchenwald. The only memorials inside the former camp are placed flat on the ground so that they are not noticeable as you first enter the camp. The two large monuments in honor of the victims are located at a distance of one kilometer from the actual camp.
Buchenwald was originally built to house 6,000 to 8,000 prisoners. There were 30 wooden barrack buildings and 15 two-story brick buildings like those in Auschwitz. All of these buildings were demolished by the Soviet Union after 1950.
An electrified barbed fire fence surrounded the camp with 22 guard towers spaced at regular intervals. Only two of the guard towers are still intact, with the ruins of two other towers still standing.In front of the fence was a strip of rocks and then a strip of grass, called the neutral zone, which the prisoners were forbidden to step on.
The electric fence around the perimeter of the camp was approximately three kilometers in total length and width. Each of the 22 towers outside the fence was manned with three sentries. They were authorized to shoot any prisoner who got within 30 meters of the fence, and hundreds of prisoners were shot while attempting to escape. Sentries also patrolled the path around the outside of the camp.
I was a little disappointed about the preservation or the lack there of, of this site, there was little to non original items, most was rebuild or re-fabricated to make it look like how it used to be. The Concentration Camp in Dachau that I visited 15+ years ago had many original items as well as the barracks that housed the prisoners and the smell, the smell to this day has me shivering just thinking about it. Not that it is a good thing, but I had hoped all these things would be present for my kids to experience as well. But none the less, they learned how it was back during that time and what people went through and how much better life is now, to appreciate instead of taking things for granted.
It was a history lesson that my kids would never learn from any text book, hands-on was a great experience and I’m glad we had the opportunity to take that trip to the Buchenwald Memorial.
If you like to learn more about the Buchenwald Memorial, they do have a website, feel free to check it out. I was not compensated nor asked to compose this post; this is merely an experience from our Family Vacation that we are sharing with you.