Why I went to Sachsenhausen

I am currently reading Jody Picoult’s The Storyteller.

My friend Jessica, a fellow lover of literature, recommended it to me this summer. She told me it was her favourite book written by Picoult and she also warned me that it was an intense read. I’m grateful that she gave me the heads up because this book revolves around the experience of a Jewish girl, Minka, during the Holocaust – any book that talks about war, genocide, or crimes against humanity, let’s face it, make me really sad.

The book deals with the complex issues of abuse and forgiveness, and while I only finished Part 2 last night, some of the scenes I have read so far have been heart-wrenching. I don’t want to ward you off the book because it is important and beautiful and well-written, but it does deal with difficult subject-matter.

Reading The Storyteller has brought back memories of a trip I took two years ago. I was traveling with friends of mine and while we were in Berlin, Germany, we decided to visit Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp located about an hour from the city centre. We could have gone to visit nearby castles or the Reichstag (Parliament), but all of us felt that it would be important to visit the camp.

Context: I had just finished my university degree in Human Rights, and in my last year of school, I had taken a course on Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. All of us have German ancestry. We had to go.

We took the train to Oranienburg and walked to the camp museum and memorial. The weather was terrible – it was windy and cold and we kept thinking it would storm. The gloominess amplified the atmosphere of despair at the camp. I can’t really describe the feeling of being there – it was terrifying, sad, grotesque. I will never forget that visit.

While Minka, the girl in The Storyteller, didn’t spend time at the concentration camp I visited (she was a prisoner at Auschwitz, then at Bergen-Belsen), every time I read a scene detailing Minka’s experience, I think of Sachsenhausen.

As we draw closer to Remembrance Day and as governments around the world make difficult decisions regarding ISIS and other threats to human security around the world (conflict in the Central African Republic and South Sudan, political unrest in Hong Kong, and the Ebola virus crisis, etc.,), I think it is important for us to remember the Holocaust and other past atrocities. We always say “never again” and we always say that this time, we’ve learned how to be better. The concentration camps left standing in Europe as memorials and museums are there to remind us to be better. Here’s hoping Canadians can demonstrate that we have learned from past mistakes, and that we are a better people.

Read The Storyteller. Visit the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Be kind to one another.

Happy reading,


To learn more about Sachsenhausen, visit the museum and memorial website: http://www.stiftung-bg.de/gums/
*All pictures below are my own.

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