A few weeks ago, I went to visit Flossenburg concentration camp which is about 45 minutes away from where we live in Germany. We’ve been a lot of places thus far in our time in Europe, but this was by far one of the most profound travel experiences I’ve had.
It was one of those experiences that takes your breath away, that makes you drop to your knees in prayer to whatever God will listen. I studied the holocaust quite a bit in school, but I don’t think there is any amount of study that can prepare you for the feeling of actually visiting a place. It was real. It happened. And it was absolutely horrible.
The thing that struck me the most about visiting the camp, other than what I have detailed in the following poem, is the number of houses that now surround the camp. Some even have large picture windows overlooking the camp. I just…I can’t comprehend how you can go about your day to day life living so close to where such tragedy occurred. Cheap land, I guess.
Anyhow, I wrote the following poem about my experience visiting the camp.
I shut off the ignition,
Closed the GPS that led me here to this place.
A knot formed in my throat as I realized
I came here intentionally,
But thousands longed to escape.
I am disgusted with myself
For having set this as a destination.
I notice they’ve added tour bus parking
So people can come by the masses
To see where other masses lost their lives.
We cross through the entrance,
An archway underneath the brick building where the S.S. guards sat,
Orchestrating the horror.
We are following their footsteps,
But we can come and go as we please.
We pass through the camp,
See the kitchens and the laundry where prisoners lived and worked.
They’re shabby buildings with chipped white paint,
Obviously worn and overused
And you can tell it’s not just from age.
There’s another white building,
This one shaped like the Star of David.
The same stars marks the door.
I go inside and am immediately
Consumed by the stale stench of death
Lingering after all these years.
It saturates my clothing,
Fills my lungs until I think they might burst.
I cannot go in any further.
I know this is where it happened,
Where 30,000 bodies were burned
Inside the same shape that acted as a symbol of their faith.
I’m longing for fresh air
As I’m sure they were.
But I can leave whenever I want
With my body still in tact,
Still housing my soul.
I lean over a railing trying to ease the queasiness in my gut
And look down into what was once the quarry
“The Valley of Death”
It was so warmly nick-named.
The lump in my throat grows,
The queasy feeling in my gut becomes turbulent.
The quarry is now a memorial,
A giant cemetery of unmarked graves honoring those
Who are long gone.
Flowers are left, the grass is neatly mowed.
The grounds well-maintained.
They’re given a level of respect in death
They weren’t deemed worthy of in life.
The rest of us flock to this place
In hopes of understanding how such cruelty is possible.
Instead we leave, hearts aching
Remembering their cruel, avoidable death.