Why you should visit a Concentration camp when in Europe

When I was planning my trip to Europe via a Contiki tour, I was looking for a tour that idealistically would allow me to see as much as I possibly could, in a short span of time. The tour I picked had it all. As I skimmed through the itinerary, one thing however, caught me off guard. Whilst visiting Germany, we would be stopping at a Concentration camp.

From what I had gathered, Contiki was a tour company aimed at a younger audience, allowing you to tour Europe whilst getting incredibly drunk every day, and partying every night with your new found friends. Why were they taking us somewhere that didn’t entail any of those things?

When the time finally came to visit Dachau Concentration Camp, I understood why. It was important, whilst in the incredible country of Germany, to take the time to understand it’s history. After all the alcohol-fuelled nights/days we’d previously had, visiting Dachau was a incredibly sobering experience.

Unlike previous places we had visited, there were no guided tours this time. You were free to roam the grounds of this historic place and interpret it in your own way. I think I prefered this. Knowing what little I had learned in high school about the Holocaust, I opted to walk around on my own, reading every sign and excerpt of writing I could.

Just by being there, you could feel the gravity of what had happened on the very ground on which you stood, although you would never truly understand the devastation experienced by those who lost their own lives, or the lives of someone they loved. I felt chills as I walked into what once was the living quarters of the prisoners of Dachau, and sadness as I approached the gas chambers where many met their demise.

What happened in Dachau, and in many other concentration camps around Europe, was well and truly awful, but if you ever do get the chance to visit, please do. It’s an important opportunity to educate yourself on the events that took place here, and to pay your respects.

Growing up in an incredible country like Australia, it was really hard to conceptualise what it must’ve been like growing up anywhere else. Reading about something in a textbook is one thing, but being able to humanise that era of tragedy in Dachau was an extremely powerful experience, one I will never forget.

Visiting Dachau definitely gave me a greater appreciation of how lucky I am to have the life I have. We live in a world where this sort of violence does not exist, at least not in the society I live in. We take that for granted a lot.

If you do choose to visit a concentration camp, here is my advice to you.

1. Take minimal photographs
By all means feel free to capture one or two photos, but this isn’t an opportunity to be a tourist. Be respectful of those who lost their lives here, and of their families.

2. It’s okay to express emotion
Everyone deals with things in their own way, so don’t feel like you can’t show emotion because you weren’t directly affected by the events that took place here. Don’t make a scene, but don’t feel you need to hold it all in either.

3. Continue your education when you leave
The gift shops often have an array of books by survivors of concentration camps and many others, for you to continue to learn more about Germany and other parts of Europe that were affected by the Holocaust. I implore you to buy at least one.

That’s all for now.
-K

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