by Claire Crowther '27 on November 4, 2023


It was unusually sunny for a Bavarian winter. The sky was a pale blue, and faint gusts of wind blew across the grounds. I had goosebumps throughout the afternoon, but this time the cold was not to blame.

Our tour group was just under twenty-five. As we approached the gate with speaker devices around our necks, I heard not only a voice from the little black box, but from blackbirds in the branches of leafless trees that lined both sides of the gravel path. They cawed at us from above, almost as if to warn us of what we were about to see. To warn us that things would never be the same.

The metal gate at the entrance stood at attention, staring us down with its bars of looming black steel. As we walked through, the little British voice in the speaker chattered into my ear. I joined a few others in my trek to different locations. The gate again. Several informational boards. The barbed wire fence. The barracks and their wooden cots. The twisted metal sculpture that gleamed in the sun. The words NEVER AGAIN.

As I looked and I listened, the speaker brought up various historical facts. “Propaganda…they were arranged based on their origins… 43,000.” Something gripped my heart, and it became hard to pay attention after a while. Hard to listen when I bore witness to places seen by so many who came before.

 There was little sound to be heard besides the speaker boxes. The gravel that crunched beneath our feet as we passed by the foundations of barracks that once stood, now marked only by numbers. The ripple of the stream we crossed over after passing by the chapel, glittering with Euros beneath its waters. The creaking of floorboards older than anyone in my group as we entered and exited chambers from which thousands did not return. Throughout it all, no one spoke. Whatever it was that gripped my heart—perhaps sorrow, or anger, or despair—tightened and refused to let go.

Eventually we had to regroup with everyone else, so we turned around and went back the way we came as we prepared to leave. Reaching the gravel path again, we passed by the chapel when it rang. I picked it up from the speaker, something about honoring the victims and 3:00 p.m. Without a word, everyone slowed down and stopped, staring at an old bronze bell that swung back and forth. My heart was squeezed even tighter now. Back and forth.

Forty-three thousand.

Back and forth.

Five minutes felt like hours.

Back and forth.

I began to ask questions.

Back and forth.

How many tried to escape?

Back and forth.

How many died trying?

Back and forth.

How many will never have their stories told?

 Eventually the ringing stopped, and the grounds resumed to their silent state. We made our way to the gate, passing beneath its iron gaze for the last time. As we waited for our tour bus on concrete slabs, everyone sat in silence. What the others pondered I will never know. The twisted thing that gripped my heart slowly let go, and in that moment I felt a strange emptiness, a hollowness in my bones I had never felt before. Eventually the coach pulled up to the parking lot, and our little group of under twenty-five boarded as we had done several times before.

I will never hear church bells the same way again.