I’d like to leave you with a quotation that one of my friends told me today, one that I had heard a few years ago from my mother but seems to have new meaning to it now: “If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.”
Haut Koenigsbourg Castle, Lunch, & Concentration Camp in Struthof, France
This morning started out to be a great day; the weather was dull but the energy was high, and I was excited for our day-long excursion. We first drove an hour on our private group bus to Prince William II’s castle. It wasn’t as magnificent as I had expected, but definitely extravagant for the time period it was in. It was made of sandstone, and it consisted of several bedrooms and living rooms. The bedrooms had fireplaces, and the living rooms were much different than the ones you would see today. One room held lots of different kinds of weapons that were used for war and punishment, even though guns were also available.
After the castle, we had a couple of hours of free time, but in France it takes so long to complete the process of eating out, that it took us the entire two hours to eat. I ordered duck breast salad, just to try something new, and it was not good at all. I finished it, just because it was so expensive and I didn’t want to waste any food, but it tasted bitter and flavorless, and the salad felt more like an appetizer than an actual meal. I also tasted a bite of snail, which wasn’t bad at all, and it sounds much better when I think of it as a French delicacy, escargot.
But the day was not over yet. People always ask me why I’m so optimistic and so happy, why I have so much faith and love for life and learning and experiencing new things, and today was a reminder of exactly why I am that way–we visited a gas chamber and actual concentration camp, and all I could think of was how happy I am with my life. I had always learned about Hitler and the Nazis, and reading books like “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “Night” always touched my heart. But to actually be in the concentration camp, learn about exactly what prisoners had to go through, to imagine what their life and experience must have been like, that is a completely different story.
There were so many different concentration camps, and so many prisoners in each camp. They were all starved, tortured, experimented on, and killed in such cruel ways that I could never even have imagined. I will never understand how humans can be so cruel to one another instead of helping and caring for each other. I believe human beings are inherently neither good nor evil, and that society and your own experiences make you who you are; the people that were applying the punishments and cruel actions were simply following orders from a figure of authority, and were brainwashed to think that what they were doing was okay, perhaps even a good thing. The Jews did nothing to deserve the cruelty that was imposed upon them, and in the end, a majority of them died before ever becoming free.
Seeing the pain and torture and sadness and death that was their daily life with absolutely no freedom or possibilities of escape was a real reminder that my few problems in life are miniscule compared to real problems of the world. My whole study abroad trip has been about me; I’ve enjoyed going to new places, meeting new people, trying new things, learning and growing and experiencing amazing things that I could not even begin to really put into words, and although I’ve always been grateful and thankful for all that I have in my own life, today was the first day in a long time that I remembered just how much of a struggle life can be for some. Not just the prisoners in the concentration camps, but even today-prisoners of war, criminals sentenced to capital punishment, people and orphans with no homes, food, families, mental and physical disabilities and handicaps, and more-it really made me re-evaluate my priorities and want to stand up for human rights and help anyone and everyone in need, as much and as often as I possibly can.