This semester at DIS Copenhagen, I’m taking a class called “Holocaust & Genocide.” During Week 6, we took a trip by ferry and bus to Hamburg, Germany for more firsthand learning. Our first stop was the Bullenhuser Damm School. This school was used as a subcamp of the Neuengamme concentration camp for housing prisoners who worked clearing rubble in the area. On April 20, 1945, 20 Jewish children, their caretakers, and 24 Soviet prisoners were brought here and killed. Today, the Bullenhuser Damm School has a rose garden memorial for these children, with a plaque for each child that lists their names and a message from their family. Our professor, Torben, walked our class through the garden, reading the memorial for each child. I thought recognizing the individuals who suffered, learning their names, and sitting with their stories together was very impactful.
We arrived at our hotel and my roommate and I went out to walk the city and explore before meeting the rest of the class for dinner that night. I was able to sit at a table with my professor and I savored this time of being able to get to know him more, hear his stories, and share our impressions of the Bullenhuser Damm School.
The next morning our class headed to the Nikolai Kirche. Toward the end of World War II, Hamburg suffered relentless bombing that culminated in setting the entire city ablaze. The bell tower on this incredible church was one of the only structures to survive the fire. There are some sculptures sitting where the church used to be that are artistic expressions concerning the burning of Hamburg. Our professor pointed out one particular sculpture which shows a man of Hamburg heartbroken after having lost everything in the fire; however, this man is seen sitting on top of bricks made by those imprisoned in the nearby Neuengamme concentration camp.
We were able to go to the top of the bell tower; as someone who is terrified of heights, I was nervous but I ended up being so glad I went to the top. From the bell tower, we got a gorgeous view of Hamburg. We also got to see how parts of the bell tower were blackened from the fire. This put into perspective how huge the fire was as it scorched the top of this structure, over 400 feet in the air.
After a delicious brunch, our class headed to our last stop: the Neuengamme concentration camp itself. There were many things that surprised our class upon first glance. For one, I was expecting the camp to be completely isolated, but there was a quaint town a few blocks away and a farmer’s field on the other side of the street. Our professor reminded us that what happened at Neuengamme was not a secret— many people in the area knew about the camp and saw the prisoners with their own eyes. Our class was also struck by the juxtaposition we were experiencing while visiting Neuengamme. It was an absolutely beautiful day, the sunniest day any of us had seen for weeks and the area around the camp was similarly beautiful. Yet we were seeing the place where people had gone through immeasurable suffering.
I was blown away by my time in Hamburg and the firsthand learning I was able to be a part of. Our class was constantly surrounded by rich history and I was able to learn about World War 2 in a way I haven’t ever before. DIS’s slogan, “Scandinavia as your home, Europe as your classroom,” is ringing true and I feel privileged to be learning in such a unique and powerful way.