Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam

Anne-Frank-HouseEveryone always comments on their claustrophobia in the Annex that Anne Frank and seven others lived in during the Holocaust.  The challenge for me was trying to comprehend how someone could survive in such little light . I felt the darkness was symbolic of the dark times.  I can’t imagine staying inside for 25 months.

Visiting the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam can be an emotional experience.  So many are familiar with the story of the young girl growing up during the Holocaust.  As I walked through the museum, I wished that the rooms could have been recreated to look like they did while she was there.  It would have helped me understand the size, and how confined it would have felt.  There is power in seeing the table where they would have had whispered conversations, or beds where they slept through fearful nights.

In the museum, you wind your way through each of the areas as you learn more about her life.  You see photos of celebrities pasted on the wall.  She wrote in her diary, “I have transformed the walls into one gigantic picture. This makes it look much more cheerful.”

Another hall leads you to a room with videos.  I was impacted by an interview with a survivor.  She was a friend of Anne’s on the other side of the fence.  There was a moment in the interview where she reflected on whether or not Anne would have had the strength to survive if she had known that her dad had survived.  Could the power of hope have saved her?  I think it would be nearly impossible to survive in a world where all hope seems lost.

One image that struck me was of Otto Frank.  The photo was taken after surviving the concentration camp.  In this Day-2-2postcard you see Otto Frank with the weight of knowing he was the sole survivor of those that resided in this room for two years and one month.  How troubling for a father.  Mies Giep was a savior for the families during the war, and I think she was for Otto after the war.

If you are interested in visiting the museum, I highly recommend purchasing tickets ahead of time.  Otherwise, you will be spending more time outside the museum than in.  If you’d like information, please visit the official site.

Visiting Dachau

MemorialSometimes the sites we see while traveling do not have a positive memory.  Although it can be challenging to enter these places, it is important to go.  Visiting a place like a concentration camp brings knowledge that is crucial to pass down.  Dachau was my first concentration camp.  It may sound odd to say this, but I have been wanting to see a concentration camp for a long time.  This time period in history is intriguing to me, and I always want to know more.  Perhaps I feel that if I can dissect what happened, then I can pass that on to my students to help prevent a tragedy like this from happening again.

Dachau is not an extermination camp like Auschwitz.  It is more of a working/reformation camp.  Dachau began with the goal to reeducate those against the Nazi party.  Journalists, priests, and others were sent to be brainwashed of their own beliefs.  If they did not change, then they did not leave.  Many times they did not leave anyway.  Later, the other groups came.  Jews, homosexuals, and gypsies were a few that could be found in Dachau.  Each was given a symbol to represent who they were.  Most of us know the yellow star, but other symbols were used to show different groups.

A key component of genocide is dehumanizing.  As the prisoners entered they were told they were nothing and had no worth.  The verbal abuse along with the physical changes would tear down the people.  The gates state, “Arbeit Macht Frei” which means work will set you free.  For many, the only freedom that work provided was death, and the ability to leave this world.

If you want to visit a perfectly preserved concentration camp, then this is not the ideal one.  It remained a refugee camp after the war and was then torn down.  They have laid out concrete foundations to show the placement of the barracks. There is one set of barracks that have been recreated to show what it would have looked like.  The beds changed over the duration of the camp.  By the end it was like an endless row of bunk beds.  These beds were made to hold 50 people, but at times they held over 400.  I pictured all of the eighth graders in my school fitting, and it just didn’t seem plausible.  Prisoners would avoid getting up in the night because they would lose there spot and have to lie on someone.

The crematorium is a challenging area to get through.  As you walk in, you see the different sections.  There is a gas chamber located inside, but it was not used for mass killings like other camps.  It was eerie to see the gathering and disrobing room.  As the people would take off their clothes they would enter another room labeled, “Brausebad” which means shower in German.  I wonder how many knew about this deception at the time.  Beyond that you will come across a room used for disinfecting the articles of clothing after the prisoners had removed the items.  In the crematorium you also find the incinerators which seem to still have ashes clinging to the walls.  The final room you come into is where the dead bodies were housed before they were burned.  Our tour guide said that the room was full when the camp was liberated.

The museum really opens the window into what happened at Dachau.  There is a meaningful combination of text and images The medical experiments were horrendous.  Some were given embolisms while others were injected with malaria.  Some even had different air pressures tested on them with tragic results.  There are images from the museum that still flash in my memory as I remember my visit.  One of the most powerful sites at the camp is the memorial.  The sculpture depicts prisoners jumping into a hot fence to escape their suffering.  Some could not endure the pain any longer.

Have you ever visited an infamous place that has left you more informed and wanting to know more?