This past weekend was our second trip for our LCC course. It was a pretty heavy weekend with a concentration camp and one of the largest American WWII cemeteries on the agenda, but we also got to go see a castle and some of the old fort systems left over in France from WWII, so the weekend wasn’t completely depressing.
Saturday morning we got up early and went to Natzweiler-Struthof, a concentration camp located close to the French border in a mountainous region. The total number of prisoners was well over 50,000 which is a huge number considering how small the camp is. The realization of how short a time the prisoners probably stayed in the camp to achieve these numbers really hit home. Barbed wire surrounded the camp and would have been electrically charged during the time the camp was in operation. The quarters were cramped with some of the smallest “rooms” probably only reaching 8 square feet of space. A child wouldn’t have even been able to stand up in one. The systematic ways of killing people was so disturbing, it’s difficult to think about even now. I’ve posted pictures of the rooms as well as the description of their functions, but it’s not really something I want to talk about.
Later that afternoon we went to Koenigsbourg Castle which was even closer to the border of Germany. If you stood at the top and looked out, you were actually looking at Germany. The castle itself was not very large but was more of a “political statement,” as we were reminded multiple times by our tour guide. The original castle had been burned early in the century, but it was redone to look like it would have looked in the middle ages. The woodwork and the wall paintings were probably my favorite parts. Most of the time it seems like all that is left are ruins and although some parts of the castle were not historically accurate, it was really cool to be able to get a feel for how magnificent it would have been when it was functional.
The next day we started out at the Maginot Line. The Maginot Line is a series of underground defensive forts that were networked together to try to slow down the advance of a German attack long enough for help to arrive. The amount of thought that went into the creation of the Maginot line was amazing. Of course, the only time it was used was by the Germans, but oh well. It’s the thought that counts, right? There were miles and miles of underground catacombs that took to you to where the ammunition was stored, the kitchen, the air purification units, the fighting blocks, and so on. The terrible thing about it was how cold it was. I was not dressed warmly enough in the slightest. But, once you can’t feel your toes anymore you just kind of get used to it.
Last we went to an American WWII cemetery. It was beautiful. Definitely something that I was proud to say was American. It was also technically American soil, so it was like a little piece of home. While this cemetery is one of the largest in France, it is still only one of many cemeteries of comparable size… and it was huge. When people throw out numbers of casualties, you always kind of say “wow, that’s a lot” and that’s that. Well, when you go to a cemetery like this and actually see how many graves are there and then realize that’s only a fraction, you begin to realize what “a lot” actually is and how many people gave their lives for our freedom. Definitely an overwhelming experience and one I will not forget anytime soon.
While this past weekend was slightly depressing, it definitely was thought-provoking. Here I am, messing around in Europe having a great old-time somewhat unconsciously glancing over the darker side of European history. We all love the beautiful parts and the parts that make us proud of humanity, but this weekend helped me to remember that it’s the darker times that truly need to be remembered and learned from so that humanity can move forward.
The rest of my pictures can be found here. Enjoy!