Dark Tourism is a challenge to understand what life truly is and what it was. Human civilization is never complete without death or bloodshed.
How does it feel to experience those places about which you have only heard or read? I tell you, it feels “Comfortably Numb”! There may be tears in your eyes, but you won’t feel them, because you are either elated or hurt to experience the reality.
My trip to Amsterdam and of course, Germany had such moments that would last in my memory forever.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say, a walk through the city of Amsterdam can bring out the romanticism inside you. The boat rides through the canals or a simple stroll through the lanes, is enchanting. The unusual brick buildings, open skyline, everything is totally intoxicating. You can sit and observe people; you won’t even notice how long you have been in the same place. Let me confess, this was my first foreign trip. So, everything around seemed amazing! Even the way people wave their hands seeing a boat full of unknown people was bewildering, yet fascinating at the same time.
From history to Hard Rock Café, from rich culture to Red Light District and from delicious cuisines to deadly substances, there is something or the other in this city for an inquisitive traveler.
A teenage girl once lived in a house on Prinsengracht canal. She spent her life behind the closed walls and sustained herself through her writings in a diary. Yes, I am talking about Anne Frank.
The house may look comfortable and cozy from outside, but the moment you step-in, the past grabs you by the collar. The photographs on walls, furniture, doors and windows, everything inside the house had witnessed the dreadful days of Second World War. The audio guide explained how Anne lived her last few years, isolated by the warring world in a hiding place that finally got exposed in 1944. She was then transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where she died of typhus in March 1945.
There is a creepy feeling. But the moment you come out and see the statue of Anne, silence is all that you can hear. The past suddenly clashes with the present.
In a flabbergasted state I wondered, how the entire Jew family could hide for such a long time from the deadly hands of Holocaust. While penning down my thoughts in the testimonial book at the Anne Frank’s Museum, I decided to get a copy of her Diary, which I eventually did after returning to Kolkata.
There were tears in my eyes and, I was numb.
My brother-in-law, who accompanied me along with my sister and mother, said, “Save your tears for the land that has witnessed the worst of this era.” Well, the words hinted that I was about to experience something more surprising in Germany.
It was the Buchenwald Concentration Camp waiting for me in Deutschland. This was one of the first Nazi camps built near Weimar in 1937, with prisoners brought from all over Europe and the Soviet Union. There were Jews, Slavs and Poles, disabled, homosexuals, criminals and other anti-Nazi rebels. I was told that inhabitants near the camp were not aware of this place back in the world war period. They assumed it to be some kind of factory. I found it very shocking!
There was a slogan on the main gate, which says “Jedem das Seine”. Literally that means, “To each his own”, but metaphorically “everyone gets what he deserves”, and that is forced labor and torture. Prisoners were tied to logs or forced to pull carts as punishment. Since Buchenwald was one of the Nazi experimentation camps, gypsies, homosexuals, and Jews were used as guinea pigs. Although there were no gas chambers here, but the death toll was massive due to starvation, illness and harsh treatments. There is a museum sharing photographs and telling real horror stories that surely can give you goose bumps. The remains of the camp today serve as a memorial.
There was silence in the vast stretch of land. Visitors put flowers in the crematorium and quietly hear the painful tale, Buchenwald speaks.
This was another numbing moment for me, without tears; but there was a deep down disgust and hatred at the lost humanity. Three years back I wasn’t aware, but now I know what Dark Tourism actually means. It is a challenge to understand what life truly is and what it was. Human civilization is never complete without death or bloodshed.
Travelling ought to refresh you but it also teaches you to see life in a different manner. Anne Frank’s house or Buchenwald Concentration Camp could be a depressive part of your vibrant vacation; but I believe, if you do not see the dark times, you can never treasure the blessings of bright days.
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