Ever since that talk in junior high, I wanted to know more. I read books and watched films. I wrote to authors, organizations and survivors, asking questions about how it happened and why. I couldn’t shake my interest. Deep inside I had this need to understand it. Ten years later, I visited Dachau for the first time.
I was twenty-four years old and had recently quit a promising job at a Fortune 100 company in Silicon Valley. I tried to follow in my father’s footsteps, and make the suburbs and Corporate America work for me, but I couldn’t accept life in a cubicle. The nudge inside me, the pull towards the Holocaust, was too strong. In the summer of 1995, I gave myself permission, and two months, to investigate and explore the Holocaust in Europe. I wanted to see the places where it happened. Maybe this would satisfy my curiosity, release me.
I didn’t want to be a tourist and found an organization in Vermont called Volunteers for Peace. VFP manages a network of community service projects around the world called workcamps and to my surprise were connected to organizations in Germany that facilitated youth volunteers doing maintenance work in the former concentration camps. These projects also offered the chance to learn about World War II history in the places where it happened, through eyewitnesses and local experts.
When I signed up for the two-week long project in Dachau, I had no idea it would lead me to spend nearly three years living and working there between 1995-2004. The experience did not release me. It strengthened what was inside of me. For the first time, I met other people like me – a tribe of people who cared deeply about the history and wanted to know it, in the hopes that it would not happen again.
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