I visited the Czech Republic in the summer of 2014. It was one of the most beautiful countries I have ever been to. There are signs of history on every street corner and every building. I am a very curious person especially when it comes to history. Before the trip, I had planned to visit a Holocaust site. So there I was, one rainy morning, at the Terezin Memorial, which was once a concentration camp named Theresienstadt during the World War II. This experience is something I will never forget in my life.
I was in Czech for a vacation with my husband Ales, to visit his family. It was my first time in the country. Marcel, my brother-in-law, asked me the day before if I was still sure that I wanted to visit Terezin. He actually bought me a book all written in English about the site so I could read about it. He said since it was our vacation, he wanted us to have a good time so I might want to think twice about going to see the site. In the end we ended up going as planned as I insisted to.
Terezin is about 40 miles north of Prague. It was a rainy and gloomy morning. As we passed through the front gate with the sign “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work makes you free”) I started to feel overwhelmed with emotion. From my reading, about 140,000 prisoners passed through that gate between 1941 and 1945, most of them were Jews, others were political prisoners. More than 33,000 died at the camp, the majority were transported to Auschwitz. A very small number survived. But when you read about something, it’s words and numbers on pages, which can be powerful, but it is nothing compared to having your feet on the ground where that history you read about actually happened. Each of us only has one life.
How could so many nations and people, some were most educated in the world at the time, get swept along by one man’s evil ideology? How could human beings be so cruel to each other? We still see hate crimes, genocides, discrimination, and bullying today, around the world, in this 21st century. Did we learn anything from history? Silence and ignorance can be very dangerous.
I learned to love my family more. I can’t imagine what thoughts were going through the victims’ minds as they passed through the front gate. Families got separated from each other, most never knew what happened to their family members, nor did they know what their own fates would be.
I learned to be more tolerant, patient, and grateful for what I have. I am lucky to have a family and friends that love me. I have clean water and food. I can pursue the work and education I want. And I live in a free country. That is more than enough.
Life is a gift. Freedom is not free.