Judaism. Of all the faiths, it seems like the Jews have had the toughest go of it with regards to religious freedom. Throughout ancient history and into the modern day, the Jewish people have faced persecution and have even had to fight for their lives. All for being Jewish.
Which brings me to a very humbling experience that I had at a place where that sort of persecution happened to Jewish people not so very long ago.
During the fall of 2000, I studied abroad in London and was able to take several trips to nearby Europe. A few of us decided to visit Prague, Czech Republic. It was a fun trip fueled by Red Bull and Vodka and lots of cheap, delicious food. On that trip, we learned about the Velvet Revolution, where Czechoslovakia shrugged off the iron curtain of Communism with peaceful revolution.
We visited the Jewish Cemetery in Prague with its many, many headstones jabbing up out of the ground at odd angles (see above picture).
One of the other items mentioned in my tour book was a day trip to the concentration camp of Terezin, outside of Prague.
When I saw the sign above the entrance to Terezin (see picture to the left), it sunk in, “This all really happened. It’s not just in a movie or in a book. This is really still here.”
Arbeit Macht Frei, or “Work Makes (You) Free,” was posted above the entrance to some concentration camps in Nazi Germany, giving Jewish people who entered, the false hopes that they could earn their freedom back through hard work and conformity.
Every person should go to a Nazi concentration camp once in their lifetime if given the chance. Experience the place. Let it sink into your body. Stand in a place like that and know the truth with each free breath you take.
Terezin was not a death camp, like Auschwitz, which means that people were not exterminated here. However, Terezin was a transient camp where they moved people from Jewish ghettos around Europe into the death camps. The picture above (with benches, bunks, and tables) shows a barracks for 400-600 people. Can you imagine what it would be like to sleep with that many people jammed into the bunks and on the floors? How could you sleep?
The picture above shows the showers at Terezin. These were real showers, not a gas chamber like the ones in Auschwitz.
The picture above is Terezin’s crematorium. Though mass killing didn’t occur here, people did die from natural causes and this is where they would be cremated.
Terezin may not be as infamous as some of the other Nazi concentration camps, but it still carried the heaviness of the Holocaust on its shoulders. Our tour group remained pretty much silent through the entire tour.
So why would I choose to go to such a terrible place? Because we, as human beings, should never forget what the Jews of Europe went through before and during WWII. It’s good to recognize that, even though the Holocaust happened seventy years ago, terrible things still happen in this world. The best we can do is be aware of it and try to make the world a better place in whatever way we can.