You are led up a path amidst a crowd of so many others. Humiliation quickly becomes your new state of living due to the treatment of your captors. Everything you own is taken from you – your clothes, hair, individuality, and even your most precious possession: your name. In exchange for all this, you are given a new identity – a simple number, a resource to be exploited for as long as possible but as short as necessary.
This scene plays through my mind as I walked through the Mauthausen Concentration Camp Memorial, trying to imagine what it might have been like to be a prisoner there during the Second World War. These thoughts make me wonder how the prisoners would have reacted to this dehumanizing process. I imagine that if I were standing in their place, I would probably try to maintain a hold on the dignity I knew that I inherently possessed as a human being. As time passed, however, I would probably soon despair and allow myself to believe that I was worthless and lacked dignity.
I wonder if these thoughts of mine could have been similar to what prisoners felt during the war or if they found a way to remind themselves, and each other, that they are more than just a number. Were they able to find and maintain a personal identity despite the fact that it was their identity that had been stolen from them in the first place? If so, how? Unfortunately, these are questions that I may never find the answers to unless I were to find myself in the same situation.