Remnants of the Darkest Hour

The concrete path traverses eerie mounds of what appears to be dirt and grass. In front of the hill, a weathered grey stone juts out of the ground, affixed with haunting words. “Hier ruhen 2,000 tote.” One stone, two stones, three. The gravity of what they represent further escapes my mind with each passing succession. Repeated again and again, in front of every mound of earth, another weathered marker appears. Final mile markers on the journey of thousands. These aren’t mounds of earth, they’re stacks of mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters.

Suddenly it’s as though I’m aboard a plane at takeoff and I feel the immense weight of the environment. The pit in my stomach deepens.

In English the stone markers read, “2,000 dead lie here.” The words seem blunt and uncaring but the atrocities committed here are too hard to express. The cold, apathetic phrase echoes the final years in the life of those who forever lie beneath them.

The expanse of mass graves in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, is difficult to stomach. Thousands of people beneath each mound. I trudge down the path counting the repetitions of words, but at 8,000 dead, the weight becomes unbearable.

Fellow visitors walk beside me, behind me, in front of me, but none utter a sound. The heaviness of the air suppresses any hope a voice has to be heard.

Resilient trees are the only survivors; the only remaining witnesses to the horrors that took place here during Germany’s darkest hour. Trees grow close together, the only things not forlorn in the camp. They form perimeters around grassy flats where buildings once stood, as if to shield the members of the graves from memories of their past home.

As the day goes on, the sun peeks out from behind grey clouds, but fails to brighten the solemn scene. The warm sun kissing my skin seems incongruous in a place that makes me so numb.

As I leave the concentration camp, the weight in the air seems to lift as the energy shifts. I take a deep breath in, releasing built up tension as I exhale. I depart thinking of the people forced to live here and how most would never walk out.

I’m relieved to go, but the visit was valuable. I saw a side of history, previously explained to me in textbooks. Books couldn’t fully convey the magnitude of events. Even now, years after the camp was abandoned and the dead have long-since been buried, what remains illustrates the story of Bergen-Belsen. The trees showed me that history is a story best told by those who witness it.