Traveling to a different country is one of the most influential experiences one can have in their entire lifetime. Our societies, once limited by long-distance phone calls, have now transformed into global communities. Students have taken notes on the Holocaust, and can spit back facts about the Bill of Rights. But, the only way to make a lasting, meaningful impression, is to connect those facts with a humanized experience that will impact one’s view of the world.
In the district, hallways are plastered with advertisements for EF Tours—an organization for student travel—encouraging those interested to tag along for a summer trip to Italy, or an excursion to the Galapagos Islands. Not only do these trips create lifelong friends, but also memories to share for generations.
However, there is one piece of information that the poster does not include: the price tag. Some of these trips cost students upwards of $5,000. The excitement that once filled a student’s heart will slowly melt away. It’s easy to dismiss a price tag this large, but travelling abroad is an investment in not only one’s brain, but heart as well that is well worth it.
I was first introduced to world travel as a realistic experience in 2015. My middle school offered an 11-day long trip to Germany, Holland and a two day leadership summit at The Hague to explore human rights. While researching the company, I was obsessed with the pictures that I saw and the reviews that I read. I was very dedicated, and also lucky enough to have been able to fundraise and cover the whopping price tag. With the help of my parents, I was on a plane to Munich, Germany just 12 months later.
The education system first introduces the Holocaust in elementary school, with movies like “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.” Nearly a decade after first learning about the tragedies constructed by the Nazi regime, I was on my way to the country once taken over by the leader of it all, Adolf Hitler.
On our second day in Munich, a charter bus took us to Dachau, the infamous death camp. It was then that it became clear to everyone that the trip was much more than a photo opportunity and a fresh German pretzel. The former site of mass genocide has been transformed into a museum and memorial for those imprisoned and murdered under the Nazi Regime. According to U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, it is estimated that at least 28,000 people were killed within Dachau’s metal gates in just five years.
It was almost unfathomable to be standing on dirt that had once hosted such horrible suffering. In order to enter the grounds, one must walk past the gate that reads “Arbeit macht frei” that has been plastered in history textbooks worldwide. The entrance leads through a museum with photos, weapons and other artifacts found at the camp.
Two rows of trees line a pathway that once lead through the bunkers. In pictures, one can see how the trees once just barely reached the top of the shacks. Few of those wooden shacks still stand today.
Less than a mile from the entrance, gas chambers still remain. Here, thousands of people were herded, and murdered, dehumanizing every part of their being. The cement walls still have scratches from those once trapped inside, taking their last breath. Even on a summer day, the musty building generates a bone-chilling feeling, leaving no option but to face the reality of the horrors that younger generations have become so accustomed to hearing about in history class.