You take the early train to the small town just outside the city. The thirty minute ride is crowded. You find a seat somewhere and present your pass to the conductor just a minute before the stop arrives.
It is a tiny, cold station with a single platform. You know that there is no train expected here for another half an hour atleast, so you nonchalantly cross the railway tracks and follow the small path towards a set of neat white houses. There is nobody to be seen; at this hour, everyone is at work. You follow a street named after Sophie Scholl. The name sounds familiar. You ponder over the fact that one man’s criminal is another man’s hero while a solitary bicyclist crosses the road in front of you, the first human being you have seen.
You finally reach the building, or rather the outer wall, low, grey and forbidding. You note that the word Denkmal means “memorial”.
You walk in, rather subdued and already wondering why you came here. At the reception the middle-aged, bespectacled man politely asks where you’re from. Perhaps it is just curiosity, awakened by your brown skin, as to what you’re doing here. You tell him you are a student. He understands, because it is mostly students who come here. Mostly young people – or the very old.
You thank him for the site plan he has kindly given you and walk out into the October breeze. Reaching the elegant, imposing gate, you read the three cold words, wrought in iron.
To your left is a patch of woods, the floor golden with the first leaf-fall of the year. Oak and birch and various other trees you do not know the name for lean over the quiet graves and stone memorials that bear inscriptions in various languages.
You go on into the interior of the camp. There is a rather garish Soviet-Era memorial at one end. Someone has placed fresh flowers there. You attempt the museum, but it sickens you after some time and you come outside, glad to be back into the air, glad to be alive.
You walk around for some time and decide that coming here was a mistake. If people could really learn to recoil from the cruelties of their ancestors, they would have done so long ago; they would not need such brutal reminders, tucked away in far cold villages, of what happens when too little empathy meets too much calculation – and too much idealism.