Photo above: At the Belzec camp, photo by Brittany Fried 

March 12, 2016

A Renewed Understanding of my Motivation to Understand Tragedy

We walked into an underground room the size of a large warehouse. It was cold like the outside, but absent of wind and the smooth concrete walls appeared slightly rusted.

The large metal door behind my classmates and I shut. As I looked around, I saw that there were no windows and the only light was coming from two floodlights at the top of the room. The lights were pointed away from the door towards the far end of the room, illuminating the far wall.

A foreign voice then echoed the distance of the room, quietly engulfing the space, ushering in a buzzing gradual headache. The ambiguous foreign vocals reflected off the walls then spiraled into my ears loud then quiet, loud then quiet, penetrating my brain as if to block out my own thoughts.

Frightened, I began to walk to the far end of the room slowly as my peers had begun doing. I crossed my arms, uncomfortable from the cold, and proceeded towards the illuminated back wall. Around me were my friends, some old and some new, hanging their heads as we made silent, short steps.
Suddenly thoughts raced through my head. What if this was how it ended? A door behind you closes, you follow your friends, scared and cold. Memories of your past echo externally and then internally as they rattle your mind to the point of paranoia. Underground you stand surrounded by eternal concrete, shivering with no way out forever. It occurred to me that his is what dying in a gas chamber must feel like. A chilling, dark and unjust end to a life so delicate.

The room I’m referring to is the large acoustic room exhibit at the Belzec extermination camp museum in Poland. It continues to surprise me how this room was the first time I cried on this trip, even after seeing the mass graves in the forest, unmarked and nearly forgotten.

The acoustic room differed from the graves because it was physically effective. An experience that, although artistic, sparked an intense reflection into likely individual experiences that millions must have lived through during the Holocaust. The experience was not just seeing a tragic remnant of a disaster, but actually feeling its significance by transporting me to a world where tragedy was reality.

The experience at Belzec has further ingrained in my heart the notion that it is the unjust terror of these tragic individual experiences that defines the motivation behind genocide and human rights studies. 

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