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Struthof & Parliament: Polar Opposites July 6, 2012

Posted by Joshua Price in Travel Log.
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The Nazi concentration camp system of the 1940’s symbolizes what was and still is are some of the most disgusting and horrendous actions ever taken by one man against another.  In middle and high school we learn about the atrocities that Hitler committed in these camps, read books that describe a deportee’s life in one of these camps, and see horrifying pictures of extremely frail individuals who have been stripped of all material possessions and even their humanity.  But, all of this pales in comparison to visiting a former concentration camp, Struthof.

Struthof was the only concentration camp in France and was the first discovered by the Allies during the liberation of France.  It was the first clue that there were camps like these in Germany, until this point the concentration camps had maintained a very well-kept state secret of the Nazi Party.  When American forces discovered Struthof, it was deserted, all that remained were several bodies, everyone else had been sent to other concentration camp sites.  The gas chamber, the experimentation rooms, and the execution room and the crematory were still present in addition to the barracks where deportees lived after working more than twelve hours per day mining sand, gravel, and pink granite for the Nazis.

I cannot say that visiting the camp was a pleasant experience in any regard.  It did make me confront what people can actually do to one another even more so than I have had to do in the past in my history classes. In this sense, the camp was worth visiting even though there are areas of the camp where it is simply eerie.  One particular spot is where the Nazis conducted experiments on some of the deportees.  There was a room with at least six bunked beds directly besides an operating/autopsy table.  This table was the place where many people were treated essentially as lab-rats.  They injected them with different viruses, bacteria, exposed them to mustard gas, phosgene and many more despicable experiments.  Right down the hall, less than thirty feet away, was the execution room where deportees who tried to resist or escape or were thought to be in any way resistant, were executed by a gunshot to the neck.  Though all of these rooms are horrible individually, think of what it would have been like to live in that room beside the experimentation table.  At any time during the day you or one of your roommates could be taken and killed and then cut apart to see what the results of the Nazi “doctor’s” experimentation was.  In addition to this, gunfire throughout the night and day, knowing that one of your fellow deportees had died with each shot.  These situations are horrible and actually seeing how close together everything was makes you understand the fear, the dehumanization, the pain and the suffering of these poor people throughout the duration of the concentration camp system and the reign of Hitler.

It is important to see these atrocities as they actually were and pay respect to the victims so that something like this is never allowed to happen again.  By learning from the past and recognizing the atrocities committed by people of the same physical makeup as us, we are able to understand the need for global collaboration in preventing similar atrocities from happening anywhere on the face of the earth.

After leaving Struthof, we traveled to the European Union Parliament is the city of Strasbourg.  The architecture of the building is phenomenal and totally unexpected.  The building is exceptionally large, containing offices and staff offices for each of the more than eight hundred members of the European Parliament.  We learned about how the European Union works as a type of confederation with member states enforcing the policies of the overarching governing body of the European Union.

The highlight of our visit was actually getting to sit in on a plenary session of the parliament during which the floor was open for debate on the situation regarding free elections in Georgia and how to assist Georgia in holding free elections without being partial to a particular political party running for governmental seats.  As an overall statement, the European Parliament stands to promote democracy and human rights not only in Europe but also throughout the rest of the world.

The last thing that we did during our visit to the parliament was meet the Parliament from the region of France that we are currently residing in Lorraine.  Specifically, she represents Lorraine and several other regions in France that are adjacent to the Lorraine region.  Her main focus was on human rights and ensuring that the rights of all people in the European Union are protected including the rights of children.

It was very interesting to see the parliament, which happens to be the third time during this trip that I have visited a seat of a governmental institution.  The European Union is a new type of governing body in that it is made up of sovereign member nations.  Among these member nations there is some dissatisfaction about the effectiveness of the European Parliament and specifically how wisely they allocate the budget.  This raises interesting questions that national governments typically do not have to address, the sovereignty of member states.  If the European Parliament is to be more effective and have a larger reach, that means that the member states will lose some sovereignty in the process as they would not totally in control of their own affairs, they would be subject to the governing authority of a governing body that they are represented in, but do not control.  There are some interesting parallels here between what is happening with regard to the European Union and some of the governmental issues that have been raised in the United States.  Stats sovereignty was a key issue during the Civil War, and the European Union as it is right now looks a lot like the national government established by the Articles of Confederation, the first governing document ratified by America.  Today, we have a federal system which is different than the confederation system that we first adopted.  From the political atmosphere here in Europe, I feel, and this is a personal opinion, that there is some pressure for the European Union to become more federalized, though not to the extent that the United States is. There would be much more power at the member state level than at the national level in the European Union, but the same principle would apply, the only difference is that in the United States the National government is generally considered the more powerful institution.  It is a very interesting situation to look into and I certainly thought about it quite a bit during my visit to the European  Parliament on July 4th.

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