Commemorating the Victims of Dachau

Hey, there.

A disclaimer: My topic for today is incredibly heavy. I share some raw emotions and images, which I myself struggle to describe fully. If you are sensitive to topics relating to the Holocaust, I encourage you to read with caution. I also encourage you to use my blog as a way to discuss the horrors of our past, commemorate the victims, and most importantly never forget.

~ Katie

Recently, I’ve been thinking it would be nice to share some pictures of my travels in somewhat of a photo-essay style. The problem was: what topic would I choose? For a few weeks, I’d been considering sharing some of my pictures from my recent visit to Paris where I got to spend time with my lovely friends, Tatiana and Maxim. But while I had a beautiful experience in the City of Lights, it just didn’t quite feel right.

Then, when my new friends from Ireland, Kaleigh and Karen, suggested last week that we should go to Munich and the nearby Dachau Memorial, I realized a blog post would be a better medium for sharing my experience than simply adding my photos to my Facebook  album. Living here in Konstanz, we’re only about three hours away from Munich, and the three of us quickly decided we needed to experience and commemorate this significant part of world history. We all agreed it would be a shame to not do so.

Happily, we were also joined by Christian and Katie B.

With the intention of honoring the memory of those who were imprisoned and/or killed at Dachau Concentration Camp(s), here are some images of the memorial so that we will never ever forget.

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Upon entrance into the camp proper, we – like the thousands of prisoners before us – had to walk through a gate with the iconic phrase, “Arbeit macht frei” meaning, “Work sets you free.” The slogan was made famous by Dachau’s sister KZ (a German abbreviation for concentration camp) Auschwitz, but I was unsurprised to see it appear here also. It’s likely the empty promise appeared here first, as Dachau was the model for all other camps.

Dachau was established on March 22nd, 1933 weeks after Hitler assumed power and was liberated by two American Army Divisions on April 29th, 1945. I found it both fitting and sadly ironic that the liberators were honored with plaques so near the gate. They were able to free thousands, but what about the thousands who had already perished? What about them?!

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So, it was with somber reflection that our group wandered the grounds for about four hours: standing in political prisoners’ cells, reading about their experiences, and trying to come to terms with the horrors which took place here.

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Pictured above is the hallway of a barrack where political and religious prisoners, including attempted Hitler assassin, Georg Elser, as well as Catholic clergy and Jehovah’s Witnesses, were housed for months or even years. The barrack was also used for 72 hour standing punishments and horrific medical experimentations. This was one of two locations within the KZ that really had an emotional impact on me. Projected on the wall of one cell was a prisoner’s account of hearing a fellow prisoner be woken in the middle of the night and shot just outside the barrack. With his final statement, “Another life extinguished,” I just had to stand there for a moment in silence – breathing, accepting, and praying for peace.

Breathing and accepting became a lot harder later in the day when I wandered over to the Crematorium by myself. Though the educational plaques described the gas chamber, pictured on the right below, as being used more experimentally on small groups than the masses at Auschwitz, it was still murder. And I had this incredibly visceral feeling of loss and sadness when I walked inside. If you’ve ever lost someone, you probably know the feeling of not being able to breath: a tightness in your chest where something was once there but now is gone, leaving you feeling empty and broken. I felt broken. I also felt all those innocent lives with me.

Krematorium

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unnamed-7They stayed with me, too, as I walked the beautifully kept pathways surrounding the building. Birds were chirping happily in the tall trees and the sun was shining brightly, dappling the forest floor with the shadows of the leaves. It all felt wrong. “How could the birds sing amid so much sadness?” I asked myself. Concurrently, I noted the beauty of the tiny forest was a perfect final resting place for some victims. A gravestone on the ground is pictured in the photo above, and it was one of many.

Elsewhere in the camp was my favorite gravestone dedicated to all the victims. “Never again” is written in Hebrew, French, English, German, and Russian to remember not only the political and religious prisoners, but also Sinti, Roma, Homosexuals, and “Asocials”.

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Nie Wieder.

 

School’s Out for Summer! … Haha, Just Kidding!

Hey, there!

It’s that time of year again where hair-brained, dazed students joyfully realize they’ve once again made it through another year of school and harrowing finals ALIVE. They pack up their cozy dorms, where so much life happened in those short 9 months. For me that includes: having heart to hearts with my bestie(s) until three am, stress eating chocolate when I have a paper due in four hours and am barely beyond a first draft, and putting on the happy playlist to dance around the room just because we can. Usually, I’m one of those students getting ready for those summer jobs and saying goodbye to their friends, especially the seniors who can’t really be graduating, can they?!

It’s that time of year again, and every year it seems to go by faster and faster. Almost exactly a year to this day, I will be graduating from St. Olaf. My time at my beloved small liberal arts college, will be over. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an imperfect place, but a good place, filled with wonderfully loving, challenging, and even frustrating people. People who have shaped me and are shaping me into the person I am becoming. And I’m not ready to let them go just yet. I’m in denial.

I’m in denial because for me this school year won’t end until August, and even then if I have to write a final paper, it won’t be due until October! October! One of the beautiful things about finals in the U.S. is once that hell week is over, it’s over. You did your best and now it’s time to move on to enjoying break. Though students have a much less stressful semester here (one quality I wish we had in the States), I can’t imagine having that cloud of stress following me my entire vacation, nor the start of senior year. How do full-time students manage it??

Anyway, I’m going to relish my denial for a while longer, choosing to live in the present*. Otherwise, I’d eschew my opportunities to sit by the lake eating an ice cream, or travel to cities I’ve always dreamed of visiting, or even learn about how perceptions of dialect usage differ across Europe! Senior year will have its time and place, as all things do, but for now I’m a junior and loving every minute!

 

*Total side note: ecologically, I prefer future-oriented thinking. If you want to know why, let’s talk!

 

Smooth(ish) Sailing

A Preface:

OOOKaayy, it’s taken me far too long to actualize this blog. Sorry. On the one hand, it’s due to my slight perfectionist tendencies, which I’d like to add are not as bad as they used to be, looking for a good topic. But I’d argue is with good reason. My goal in writing this blog is to share my study abroad experience with you. You, being smart readers, probably already read or inferred that fact. What I haven’t shared, though, is my desire to make this something meaningful: something which doesn’t just say, “Oh, look at the pretty castle I just saw! Yay, me and my great adventures in Europe!” (Though, I did just see Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau, by the way.) =D Here’s proof:

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Rather, I want to use this blog to reflect and hopefully grow from my experiences, because that’s what is most important. My other reason for delay is much less lofty. Simply, wifi issues took the steam, the excitement, and the joy of starting a new blog out of me for a while. In fact, I hadn’t even intended on making this post until I realized my Facebook status was reaching the limits of what I would even read, and I’m pretty good about reading my dear friends’ long posts. So, ongoing wifi issues aside, let’s get to the meat!

Bureaucracy, and Why I Despise It:

Things are great here in Germany, but I’d be lying if I said everything went smoothly. Sunday marks my second full month here, but it’s only today after three office visits this week and one appointment in March that I received my residency permit. All I needed this week was to pick up the darned document. You might be thinking, “Oh, but Katie these things take time.” I’d respond, “Yes, I know, but you’re not dealing with German bureaucracy and the most stickler immigration office in the country. You’re not in a system which makes you jump through so many hoops just to study at university – proof of health insurance (meaning go buy German insurance*), proof of financial resources (set up a German bank account), proof of residency, and proof of enrollment (attainable only after you’ve proven the first three). And to top it off it’s not like the office could make this process any easier by telling you to bring a special form with you in addition to your passport and temporary permit, which you received because the German bank didn’t yet notify the immigration authorities about the money you know is in the account.”

I’d also add that this is quite the learning experience. As far as I’m aware, international students studying in the U.S. don’t deal with as much bureaucracy, but that may be completely wrong. Obviously, international individuals applying for their Green Card go through similarly stringent processes with severe repercussions (e.g. deportation) if they don’t check in at a federal office regularly or let their Card expire – a dehumanizing process I witnessed first-hand while interning last summer for UMN Law School’s Legal Clinics. People being deported don’t have much hope of defending their situations, which can be especially heartbreaking if you know their home countries can’t provide the mental health support or safety these individuals sought on American soil.

But, I digress. This blog’s aim is not to dip its oar into the heated political debate on illegal immigrants. Rather, I mention the topic because my own bureaucratic roller coaster reminded me of the sadness and compassion I felt while witnessing deportation trials. My experience is not comparable to their ordeal. Though, after the hurdles I’ve overcome these last two months, I certainly feel more empathetic toward anyone attempting to establish temporary or permanent residency in a foreign country.

I also feel incredibly grateful to Uni Konstanz’s International Office for their guidance and support. We Non-EU students are incredibly lucky to have such a robust team available to answer our questions and vouch for us with the immigration office. Alyssa and Leo, friends I’ve made here, have told me about how much harder it is doing the process alone when your university or your job won’t support you. Tonight, I’m thanking God and the stars above for picking Universität Konstanz as my German home.

Home sweet, temporary home!

*Personally, I got an exemption stating my US insurance is sufficient, but it wasn’t without its own series of hurdles.