When you first enter through Gate A of the camp, as a free person, you are presented with the now nearly empty landscape where many barracks used to be. The indentation of the former barracks are filled with stones, but the landscape appears to be more spacious than it truly is. As the tour went on, the space began to feel smaller and more claustrophobic.
During the war, German shoe companies used prisoners to test out new shoe sole materials on a track at the camp. The remains of the track are at the main courtyard where the prisoners were counted daily. Prisoners were forced to run on different types of materials and were subjected to torture by guards.
The camp wasn’t an extermination camp like Auschwitz, however, people were murdered there. Many from starvation, diseases, improper living conditions. Others killed at the hands of guards from target practice, or in a building with secret rooms where they were gassed and burned. Some prisoners committed suicide by running into the elextric fence that surrounds the camp.
We entered two of the former barracks, small buildings, which were supposedly holding 400 to 600 prisoners toward the end of the war. The camp mostly held communists, war prisoners, homosexuals, jews, gypsies, and other non aryan groups. The camp primarily imprisoned men, but it even housed women toward the end of the war.
We walked around the camp seeing various areas where prisoners lived, worked, and died. As a Jewish person, many thoughts went through my head at the time of visiting. I wanted to leave as soon as we entered, and as soon as the tour was over I nearly ran back to Gate A to get out.
It was utterly shocking and upsetting to be in the camp. The air smelled toxic, smacking me in the face and reminding me that something terrible happened there. It was startling and disturbing to be in the camp, but it was important to me to learn about the history of the place.
Visiting the camp was a slap in the face reminder that people like me were persecuted for things they could not change about themselves. I felt power in being able to tour the camp as a free human being.