If you are travelling in Germany or you live in Germany, you cannot possibly ignore the constant reminder of its troubled times and the Holocaust. And if your travel partner is a World War II buff like mine, you cannot escape but to revisit the memorials and museums highlighting the Nazi regime that the country and most parts of Europe endured at that time. You might wonder why I am talking about such a grim topic out of all my travel escapades. Well, the reason is the message that comes out of this constant reminder. I will come to that in a bit, but before I would like to take some moments of your time and reflect on three specific places that I visited during my time in Europe that taught me some unforgettable life lessons.
My visit to the Jewish Museum in Berlin (Jüdisches Museum Berlin)
Being an architect by training I went to see this famous museum at the very first chance that I got, when I reached Berlin. Designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, this modern building is considered to be an architectural marvel with its unique design that integrates both ‘physically and spiritually the meaning of the Holocaust into the consciousness and memory of the city of Berlin’. But what struck me the most were the host of memorabilia placed in the museum and the stories that explain their origins. They are bound to give you goosebumps and make you wonder how much courage and strength was needed by the exiled Jewish population in order to overcome the harrowing times and find new purpose in life. It is simply unimaginable and unfathomable by normal beings like us.
My visit to the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam
Perhaps you have read Anne Frank’s journal – The Diary of a Young Girl, or perhaps you have heard about her story. I did read the Bengali translation when I was quite young but did not really understand the context. When I visited her original house in Amsterdam, which had been transformed into a museum in 1960, I was able to actually comprehend, but only to a very limited extent, the hardships she and her family suffered during the tumultuous time during World War II. Once you go through the secret door in the house and enter their hiding place, you will definitely emerge out from the other side with more sense of gratitude.
Our visit to Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland
Perhaps the most impressionable trip that I took was to this infamous concentration camp in Birkenau near Krakow. I had avoided visiting these heart-wrenching sites within Germany as I did not possess the capability to process the nauseating feeling such places give you afterwards. But as mentioned my partner in crime is an avid World War II fanatic and hence, I could not escape this one. Auschwitz camps from the outside would look very simple and normal but the sites and stories that are preserved inside the buildings are bound to send a chill down your spine once you start exploring this huge place. Our tour guide narrated some of the most agonizing tales of death and punishment and some of the most remarkable tales of escape. You will realise the value of freedom once you seen this place.
Coming back to where I started and why I narrated my experience of visiting these three particular places – all of them taught me two things – never lose hope and be compassionate. To answer my own question – why such constant reminder of the exploits of a ruthless regime? Purely to not forget the history and to not give up. If an entire nation could pick itself up from the devastation of the war and emerge as a super power, it is never too late to be optimistic and move on in life. There will be innumerable challenges thrown in your path, but while overcoming them do not forget to be kind and compassionate.
In the wise words of Anne Frank,
“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” ― The Diary of a Young Girl
This piece is written by my friend Alokananda Nath, who is an avid traveler and reader. She extensively traveled across India and Europe . Prefers seas and oceans over hills and mountains. An Architect-Urban Planner by profession. She has been working in the urban development sector in India for past 6.5 years. After an academic hiatus of 2.5 years, she is back in Delhi, currently working with the German International Cooperation (GIZ) as a Technical Advisor.