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Student Writing about Their Experiences

It's a beautiful sunny Friday morning here. Students will soon attend their last class of the week. Below are journal entries by our students reflecting on their experiences this week.  


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Trinket Guth


Children and Freedom, Then and Now

Once again, I am shocked by what is affecting me, and how much. I’m writing this the evening before we go to a concentration camp, because I know that tomorrow night I will not be able to write. I will likely be unable to do anything other than lie in bed. However, yesterday’s trip to the German Resistance Museum stunned me. I expected it to be boring. Many museums are. However, the emotion in that space is incredible. People died for their beliefs in that courtyard, in those rooms.

Before that trip, I didn’t really think about kids under Nazi rule. I had heard of the Hitler Youth, and knew that Jewish children were killed, but I had distanced myself from it. Then I saw the pictures of kids, just teenagers, who stood up to the Nazis. One was fifteen, and died at sixteen. I’m twenty seven. I’ve had more than ten years over what he got. He didn’t deserve that, and neither did any of the other teenagers who died all because they wanted a little bit of freedom.

And today at the Topography of Terror museum, I saw something that really hurt. A photo of a six year old girl. She had epilepsy, and was taken away by the Nazis. There is no official death date for her, only knowledge that she died simply for being disabled and in care of the state.

There’s currently a revolution in Iran. Women who want the freedom to live their lives as they choose. There are videos of little girls taking off their hijab and skipping down the road. There is a video of a group of young women taking off their hijab and dancing. It is illegal for women to dance in public. Those young women are in prison now.

The connection is stunning. What makes the swing kids in the 1940s, a group of teens who died for wearing clothes that they wanted to wear and dancing to music they wanted to dance to so different from the girls in Iran who knew they were risking their lives to post a TikTok video? They exist eighty years apart, in different parts of the world, under different dictatorships, but are they truly different? Is there anything more beautiful and tragic than young person’s desire for freedom of self-expression so strong that they would die for it?



Max Jarl - An excerpt from my personal journal:

Thursday, May 25

2:18 PM

I’ve been moving around constantly for just about the entire week so far, but I finally have some time to sit down and write. Yesterday was a very long day - quite possibly the longest of all the field trips we will be embarking on during our time in Germany: the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, located in the town of Oranienburg about 35 kilometers north of Berlin.

Sachsenhausen was one of the 23 main concentration camps used by the Nazis to carry out what Adolf Hitler called the “Final Solution”, in which millions of people were imprisoned in these camps. Here they would be subject to horrible living conditions, meager food rations, frequent torture, humiliation, and often times death.

At first, victims of the camps mainly consisted of social democrats, communists, and other political opponents of the Nazi regime. However, Hitler had a long list of demographics he believed did not belong in German society, members of which would soon be sent to the camps as well. Such groups included Jews, homosexuals, Romani people (also known as Gypsies), the disabled, and those who did not conform to social norms, who were labeled “asocial” or “workshy”. Between its construction in 1936 and its closure in 1945, an estimated 200,000 people were held in Sachsenhausen, about 50,000 of whom were killed on the camp’s grounds. 

After three train stops, it was about a 20-minute walk to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. The journey from the dorm to the camp took about an hour and a half in total. The street leading up to the camp’s gates was lined with pretty, modern-looking houses. When we got to the camp, it felt eerie and surreal walking down the very street on which so many prisoners were marched to their deaths.

Upon arriving at the main entrance, we were greeted by a foreboding black gate with a sign reading “Arbeit Macht Frei”. Roughly translating to “work sets you free”, signs bearing this phrase were placed at the gates of many concentration camps. The significance of this phrase is not well known, but it is possible that it was meant to instill a false sense of hope in prisoners that they would be released if they worked hard.

The first thing that caught my eye immediately after entering through the gate was a sign reading “Neutrale Zone / Es word ohne Anruf sofort scharf geschossen”, meaning “Neutral Zone / a shot will be fired without warning”. The so-called “neutral zone” was an area bordering the camp walls, and any prisoner who crossed the line into this zone was shot on sight.

We had about an hour to explore the camp on our own. An hour was not nearly enough time to take in everything the site had to offer, but I was able to check out a few of the exhibits. I first entered Barracks 37, one of the three barracks in which Jewish prisoners were housed. One end of the barracks has since been turned into a museum with informational placards and artifacts giving insight into what inmate life was like in the barracks. The other end of the barracks was maintained even after the war, serving as a chilling reminder of the prisoners’ living conditions. Especially noteworthy were the bathrooms, consisting of about a dozen toilets and no privacy, and the bedroom which consisted of dozens of triple bunk beds crammed into one small space.

After exploring the barracks, I made my way to one of the guard towers, the inside of which was turned into a small museum of its own, with various TV screens displaying informational videos about various aspects of the camp, such as its construction, inmate life, and the SS officials who ran the camp. By the time I was done in the guard tower, it was about time to leave, so I had to head back to the visitor information center. However, on my way back, I got to see one last important part of the camp: the official Sachsenhausen National Memorial. Constructed in 1961, this towering obelisk stands at 40 meters tall. On each of its faces are eighteen triangles representing the eighteen different countries from which the camp’s inmates came. The triangle shape is also a tribute to the triangle-shaped badges that inmates had to wear on their uniforms.

On the train ride back, our professor showed me an exhibit I had not seen: a placard commemorating Folke Bernadotte, a Swedish diplomat who organized the rescue of about 31,000 prisoners during the Holocaust, one of whom was my great grandmother. Though my great grandmother was held at a different camp, Bernadotte had visited and rescued about 2,200 prisoners from Sachsenhausen, and it was very meaningful to see the site of one of his operations. It is hard to think that if it were not for him, my great grandmother may have been killed, and I would not be here right now.

Overall, despite having plenty of background knowledge on the Holocaust as well as this specific camp from my class research, being able to visit one of the camps in real time was a very sobering experience. The gorgeous sunny weather, the melodious singing of the birds, and the peaceful surrounding landscapes were harshly juxtaposed with menacing concrete walls, barbed wire, and the history of the atrocities committed on these very grounds eighty-some years ago. Such a stark contrast made for a fascinating but unnerving experience.



William MacIntosh 
Blog Response 2 

The most emotionally opening and oddly awakening trip this week for me was to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, or SCC for shortform. SCC was a Nazi concentration camp located in Oranienburg, near Berlin, Germany. It was one of the first major concentration camps established by the Nazis after they came to power in 1933. The camp was named after the nearby town of Sachsenhausen. It was unfortunately not a challenge to imagine being a prisoner in its shoes from the included historical literature on the campsite, from simulating the marching prisoners had to go through in uncomfortable equipment, most of the time being starved, thirsty, exhausted, or more. One of the personally most interesting things I found out about the camp was what prisoners did during leisure time. Sometimes, the Germans forced the prisoners to sing to humiliate or slander them. This was in a weird twist of fate, created a bit of a uniting environment for members of the communists imprisoned in this camp. One of the notable songs sung by communist prisoners at Sachsenhausen was the "International," It being a famous socialist anthem that became a symbol of unity and resistance against fascism. The song originated in the late 19th century and has been associated with various communist and socialist movements worldwide. The lyrics of "The International" express the ideals of international solidarity and the struggle for equality and justice. In addition to the "International," communist prisoners at Sachsenhausen sang other revolutionary songs that conveyed their political beliefs and aspirations. These songs often addressed themes of resistance, freedom, and the fight against oppression. By singing these songs, communist prisoners not only sought to boost their spirits but also to send a message of defiance to their captors. Singing these songs provided psychological resistance in an environment designed to strip prisoners of their dignity, humanity, and individuality. It allowed them to maintain a sense of identity and solidarity with their fellow prisoners, fostering a spirit of resistance and resilience. I found it quite admirable that even when everything around them seeks to put them down, the German prisoners at Sachsenhausen still found ways to express themselves under the watchful eyes of National Socialist Germany. 



Charlotte Mazur


Thoughts on the Eastside Gallery

On Friday, May 20, 2023, we went to the Eastside Gallery. When we arrived at the sight, I thought about how special it was to be there. I found myself thinking about how amazing this opportunity was to be able to go here and see this artwork on the wall. I thought about the idea of how memorials are meant to be seen by the creator versus how visitors actually see them. I was also pondering how when making memorials there will always be people who think positively or negatively about them. I wonder what do people like or dislike about the art on the wall? Could the art on the wall itself be seen as disrespectful? Are people mad that the paintings are on the wall? I really enjoyed seeing all the art. All of the pieces are different and unique. I did not have a favorite piece, I just enjoyed them all as one collection.



R.J. Miller

Journal Entry 2

The tours I embarked upon with my classmates and teachers brought me to apparently yet superficially contradictory monuments; one tracking the holocaust’s harrowing evolution into its bloodthirsty zenith, and another honoring both small and consequential resistance from Germany’s people against the responsible dictatorship, centered around a conviction for peace and liberty uniting military generals with impoverished Mormon teenagers and catholic priests with socialist union leaders. The stories these museums recounted unto us depicted two entirely different German peoples, one among who was willing to throw away all respect, dignity, and possibility of a fulfilling life to safeguard their people from inhuman tyranny, and another who embodied said tyranny and systematically weaponized it against a complete demographic of human lives. Although their objectives and tactics could not be less reconcilable, they each concurrently availed themselves of one vital tactic to promote or enforce their viewpoint of Germany, one which ended up being foundational to whether or not their movements accomplished their objectives: propaganda.

One could easily track how the holocaust developed into extermination simply through tracking how the propaganda Nazis rendered pervasive in Germany and the other territories they occupied. Posters and newspapers caricatured their Jewish targets, exaggerating the size of their noses, spectacles, religious garb, and even their skull shape. Movies produced via Joesph Goebbels, the propaganda minster, likened Jews and rats and levied a diverse quantity of outlandish accusations against them, alleging their participation in grotesque rituals wherein babies were cannibalized. Such slanderous newsreels, newspapers, cartoons, and slogans, all proclaiming in one voice “The jews are our misfortune,” were prominently exhibited via multiple sites within the Topography of Terror we visited. These calumnies and advocacies of violence would be omnipresent throughout and beyond Germany’s borders. Today, the lies they promoted pathologically are considered vital to manufacturing consent for Jewish erasure, and therefore the development of the holocaust. Against such a monumental ideological force, coupled with a vindictive Gestapo willing to execute whoever dared to step out of line, resistance appeared not merely futile but impossible. Yet it transpired, and it was never limited to intellectuals, soldiers, or party leaders. Helmuth Hubener imperiled and ultimately gave his life harassing Hitler youth and nazi organizations with pamphlets vehemently denouncing the second world war and the totalitarian rule the third Reich inflicted upon its people, all before he reached his eighteenth birthday. Following inspiration from Communist broadcasts and French prisoners of war in a neighboring concentration camp, Hubener gathered a small, clandestine high schoolers, and arranged intricate methods of propaganda distribution which spread his message to the largest quantity of people he could manage. Unfortunately, he contacted the wrong person with the hopes of translating his pamphlets to allied audiences and was turned in to the Gestapo. During a brutal, torture-ridden interrogation, Hubert refused to surrender the names of any of his compatriots, instead accepting all culpability for his actions. At the age of seventeen, he was beheaded for treason and “consorting with the enemy,” and the news pertaining to his murder was presented boastfully across Germany Within a museum dedicated to resistance against Nazi occupation, a monument to him proudly stands to his steadfast resistance. Emblazoned upon it is a sample of his most famous writing, encouraging spectators to never forget their most powerful possession: their individuality.



Will Weinlaeder

Path through oblivion

Our field trip to Sachsenhausen camp helped put the information and scale of the true evil of the holocaust. It’s one thing to watch documentaries from the comfort of your own home but to visit the physical place, stand on the ground where so many met a brutal end, and to see the artifacts of what conditions they were put through. History is full of dark moments and many histories wish that such moments didn't exist, but they do. Walking through the gates and truly laying eyes on that place of darkness and understanding the story of it made it all the more impactful. For me personally I was able to keep my composure, but I can feel the pain of those who are more sensitive to such places. The information presented by the museum helped to inform and expand my understanding of just what life was like, what was performed and other such activities. History like this, despite its horror, shouldn't be covered up. It should be learned to educate and to help provide awareness of it to help prevent such curtly from being allowed or seen as just. Today we walked on the path that took us through darkness.

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