Responsive to suffering, attuned to joy

I don’t have my thoughts collected enough to write a long post about Dachau, because if I tried to write about everything I saw and felt, I fear I wouldn’t do the horrors the people endured in that place justice. I just want to write about one thing I find symbolic and stirring: the Poplar trees that lined the street between the barracks.

The first thing I noticed when I saw these was that they looked like angels wings; these trees (the same kind that were there when the camp was in operation) seemed to be a symbol of life and hope in the midst of so much suffering and evil. The place where these wings seem to meet is a Christian memorial—it was incredibly moving for me to see and remind myself that God is sovereign even in the most incomprehensible and horrific situations. As you walk down this street between the barracks and under the shadow of these trees, you quite literally approach the foot of the cross.

I went to the convent behind this memorial and prayed for a long time for peace and healing for those affected by this concentration camp, which is, in a sense, everyone on this earth. Who knows how those brutally worked, starved, and killed could have made an impact on us today? Their freedoms and potentials were worth so much more than something as nonsensical as race and the fight for power.

In my honors religion class this past semester (Indigo and Emma were in it too!!), our amazing professor, Dr. Middleton, said we should be “responsive to suffering and attuned to joy.” The ability to see and understand oppression but still have a heart of joy is something I am working on. My life has been comparatively “easy” and there is nothing I would change about my path to who I am today. Joy is something that comes naturally to me, but I haven’t had to endure hardships anywhere close to what the majority of the world has to go through. The human beings that were cycled through this camp had their belongings taken, heads shaved, names replaced with numbers, bodies beaten, and dignity stripped. Their identities, cultures, and faiths were reduced to colored shapes on patches.

I had no idea some of the women were kept in a building and continually raped by the SS soldiers until I saw a small marker where the building was. The fact that I am still learning more about concentration camps despite being immersed in memorials and museums for the past week speaks to the terrors of the holocaust. There is no possible way for us to know everything that went on in these camps—each person suffered different tragedies. It was hard enough for me to read about this, so I cannot begin to imagine how these individuals felt living it out.

Despite these evils, we are still called to be attuned to joy. I wonder if any of the prisoners looked at those trees and saw angel wings too. If they looked at them and wished they could fly above the electrified barbed wire and guard towers and out of the camp. The thousands that remained resilient show that hope, even just slivers of it, remained. Our time at Dachau is something that will be on my mind for a long time and these emotions will be hard to sort out.

I’m so thankful to have gone through all of this with the wonderful people of CR10—I have never met a group of more thoughtful, passionate, kind, inquisitive, and loving friends than I have in these past 8 days. I think it is so beautiful that we all visited the same space yet each person got something different out of it. That really reinforces the idea that our perspectives and past experiences continue to shape how we view and react to life’s heartbreaks, joys, and surprises. Everyone has been so open to discussion and truly invested in what each other experienced. I hope and expect this dynamic will continue throughout the entirety of CR.

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