It wasn’t the size or the scale or the beauty of the view, the changing leaves, the sun peeking out behind the grey clouds. It wasn’t the stones placed on memorials or the signs explaining what we were meant to remember. It was, rather, the order, the organization, the efficiency and thought that had gone into creating an industrial process that, as intended, exterminated thousands of souls.
Souls that were exterminated because they were no longer thought of as souls, as individuals, as humans.
In an industrial process devoid of humanity to enable the process to function.
In a place that was beautiful, with forest growing on the mountaintop, with sunlight streaming through trees, where the wind must have been extraordinary when it came.
And what got me, too, was the way that nature could entirely take over if we let it. The soil had regenerated from the burned remains of buildings overloaded beyond expectations. The trees had grown tall inside what had once been structures meant to contain, to suppress, to separate. The paths were almost overgrown, almost hard to distinguish from the leaves strewn across the ground.
It was autumn in the beech forest. Autumn in Buchenwald.
If we let it, nature could obliterate the remains of what we were there to remember. Nature thrives despite of humanity, against humanity, and here we have fought nature back to remember. Letting this place become, once more, simply a beautiful place would mean that we risk forgetting, risk allowing the lessons of the past go unlearned.
And so the paths were almost hidden. Almost, but not quite. Intentionally the paths were designed and intentionally they remained.
It is not enough to remember; rather, there is a responsibility to act. And this means putting up the markers, placing the stones, taming the trees. This means being there, being at Buchenwald, and acknowledging the lives taken and ended there. This means continuing to tell the stories, to say the names, to walk where thousands walked, and to share the experience so as to keep it as present as we can into the future.
Because it is not enough to say that we remember.
We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. – Elie Wiesel