It didn’t bring a tear to my eye , but I remember very clearly feeling a sense of sadness , disgust and hatred when I visited with my family the concentration camp museum of Natzweiller-struthof in Alsace. I’ll always remember it, I think I must have been about 14 years old during the visit it was incredibly moving and still haunts me today .
It was a place imbued/ saturated with this incredibly sinister and evil aura and the weather that day was cold and rainy which I’m sure just enhanced that feeling. This camp was a place where French resistance fighters, partisans , spies and captured British commandos were brought to be worked slowly to death or immiediately executed and there were firing squads , a gallows , a gas chamber and an incinerator on standby 24 hours a day for that purpose. I dont think it was ever primarily utilized like Auchwitz or Belsen for the Holocaust but if I remember correctly there were Jewish prisoners brought there for the express purpose of being subject to horrific experiments and execution to build a skull collection for some Nazi academic who wanted one for his anthropology institute.
Natzweiler is a visceral assault on the senses. You are confronted with vicious barbed wire and fence after fence , guard towers that would have been manned by machine gunners , a gallows where prisoners would have been hung to death and bleak little buildings where prisoners would have been crammed at night and starved and froze to death. But the thing that I remember more than anything else was the gas chamber , morgue , experimentation labs and the incinerator where bodies would have been burned. Just the whole place made me feel dizzy and physically sick , a tiled , clinical hell that stank of some kind of disinfectant and cinders even after all these decades since the atrocities were committed there. I remember seeing some old shoes of executed prisoner just piled up by the gas chamber and a rusty scalpel on the tiled “experimentation” lab.
When I think about it, that visit certainly contributed at an early age to my enduring and burning hatred of mindless group-think conformity and cowardly vicious little Eichmanns in positions of power (and there are many of those out there let me tell you). It is absolutely crystal clear to me how easy it is on a macro and organizational cultural level for society, without the integrity of individuals who resist, to daydreamingly stumble into that hideous state of being that Hannah Arendt described as “the banality of evil”. I think Natzweiler is just the ultimate expression of that evil but I know that it ultimately continues to lurk in the human condition on a microlevel.
Other places I’ve visited where I remember I felt similar feelings (albeit not quite as viscerally as Natzweiler) were at the Dublin gaol where the Black and tans tortured and executed Irish Republicans , the WW1 trenches and museums in Belgium , the Afro-Brazil museum slavery exhibition and many of the Prehispanic archeological sites where the Conquistadors destroyed both civilizations and thousands of human lives , the Civil war exhibit in the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid and of course the bunkers of the Sierra de Guadarrama.