So this weekend has been a relaxing one. After the crazy time we had in Berlin – which was insanely fun but also extremely busy – it was nice to stay in Prague for a couple of days and really absorb my city. Getting back here, I had the strange feeling that I wasn’t giving myself enough time to take in the country I was in and get acquainted with it so my plan was to just have a quiet weekend taking pictures, going out to eat occasionally, reading, and sleeping to make up for the lack that I’ve had this past week.
Things didn’t go exactly according to plan – as they so often do – and instead of spending the entire weekend in Prague, I spent Friday and Saturday here and then left this morning with four other friends so that we could tour the Terezin, a concentration camp in the Czech Republic. It was a last minute thing that we literally decided to do Friday night and didn’t actually put any plans into motion until Saturday night, but we ended up leaving Prague at 10:30 and basically having a little day trip at the Terezin, an hour away from our city. The experience was definitely one that I was appreciative of and humbled by. We spent two hours in the Jewish Ghetto Museum, an hour or so at the Musenberg Barracks and Jewish Cemetery and then ended our day trip at the Small Fortress – an isolated area within the concentration camp that had been reserved for the “troublemakers” among the prisoners.
There were so many things that I learned from that trip. Some of those things were simply facts. For instance, when I first heard about the Terezin, I didn’t realize that the place started off as a town and only after the townspeople were evacuated and Jewish citizens transported in did the place turn into a concentration camp. I also don’t think I realized the scale of the death toll. I think in our minds, we’re aware that the amount of people that died during the Holocaust was, and continues to be, horrific and unjustifiable by any means, but I think there are only a few moments in our lifetime where we inherently understand it in a way that is so visceral and personal that it momentarily takes our breath away. It’s one thing to know how few Holocaust survivors there are, but it’s completely different to translate that number into something that’s mentally comprehensible to us – like being told that, in transports of a 1000 people, only one or two people survived. Imagining something like that – trying to comprehend what it would feel like to be that one survivor, or questioning whether, under those odds, you would have survived had you been there – it changes things. It changes everything.
I had a moment like that when I walked into a room filled with thousands of names and, for just a few seconds, was able to wrap my head around the scale of death that that room had memorialized – was able to put it into terms of my own life and imagine what it would be like for that many people so near to me to die.
But that’s not the only thing I learned on the trip. I also realized how vastly different pain can be. Being African American, I have a history of pain in the US but, seeing how deeply one of my Jewish friends was affected by what she was seeing, I realized the extent of the difference between different types of historical pain. I don’t want to elaborate on her much further just because I feel like that was a private moment, the detail of which I have no right to share, but talking to her made me realize that, even though the pain people feel in these types of situations is so different as to be incomparable, it can create a sense of solidarity and understanding between two people that can ultimately bolster their relationship. And that’s, I think, one of the many important lessons I’m going to take away today and that I would like anyone reading this to consider. I didn’t tell this girl I understood, because I didn’t. I couldn’t, not really just as she couldn’t understand my pain. But I didn’t have to for us to transcend that pain and grow stronger from the experience.
I don’t know if I’m making any sense when I say that and I don’t want to sound preachy but that was a real moment of understanding that moved me and that I want to remember and share with you all. But that’s enough of that, I didn’t mean to put anyone in a somber mood. I just want to encourage people not to shy away from pain like this. These memorials are specifically for remembering and, even though it’s hard, I think that being reminded of your country’s awful history can ultimately be for the better.
That’s all I wanted to say.