Today I had to give a speech of commemoration in my public speaking class.
I decided to speak about the opportunity I had to visit the concentration camp in Dachau, Germany nearly four years ago. I thought I’d share my speech on here and hope that it reminds someone–as it reminded me–to be little more conscious and aware of the difference that each of us makes upon each other, and the love and compassion we can show to others.
We shuffled to the gate—a group of foreigners with a foreign perspective. The mid-July sun was sweltering—and angled in such a way that forced my eyes to battle to find the words “Arbeit Macht Frei,” cast into the iron gate that I would soon realize had constrained unconsenting casualties and shackled sore souls in a feud based upon falsehoods. “Arbeit Macht Frei” or “Work will set you free,” was the first of a repulsive repertoire of lies that had been served alongside unjustice and mistreatment at the very first of the World War II Nazi concentration camps in Dachau, Germany.
Our young group of American teenagers continued through the camp, naïve to the reality that what we were about to experience would age our characters significantly. Our eyes poured over statistics and photographs. We stood in solemn silence as memorials and statues became etched into our hearts and molded into our minds’ memories. These mementos paid tribute to the fallen victims of racism in its most intense form. Men, women, mothers, fathers, children, friends. These precious lives had been taken in a shamefully disgraceful way, but my overflowing heart took comfort in knowing that there would be no shame upon the countenances of these broken souls when grace would one day make them whole.
In that chilling concentration camp were traces of feelings and numbness, growth and defeat, tears, sweat, blood, dirt. Not only were those things experienced by myself and my somber schoolmates, but they had been experienced by thousands before and would be by thousands to come. One particular monument encompassed my emotions as it read, “May the example of those who were exterminated here….because they resisted Nazism… help to unite the living for the defense of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow men.”
My shoes crossed over dirt paths and I thought of the thousands of bare and tattered feet that had stumbled across those same places. A group of teenagers bustled past me and I overheard their German dialect. Some were irreverent. Others observant. But, overall, their demeanor did not show the same grave ambiance that resonated from that of a contrasting group. In the distance was a group of teenagers of darker ethnicity. They were carrying an Israeli flag and a sizeable floral wreath as they quietly moved on toward another memorial in the courtyard.
All of the emotions and thoughts I had been having halted for a moment as my subconscious placed me in the experience of each of these starkly different companies. What an antithesis of experiences these two groups of students were having. It was something I couldn’t comprehend, nor imagine.
The Israeli students, the German youth, the Nazis who had traipsed the hallowed grounds, the Jews whose lives had be taken, my fellow classmates, the foreign tourists—all unique backgrounds and circumstances, but with a simple truth to bind us commonly. Each had their own battles of anguish and strife that beat down upon fatigued spirits. Some were visible. Others suppressed. But the history of the war and the accounts of individuals continues and lives on so that each may come to empathize with their fellowmen and, “Live for the defense of [their] peace and freedom.”