This is a guest post by our friend and travel blogger Lizzie of Wanderful-World as she explores Europe’s saddest and most poignant sites:
Perhaps the most famous site of sorrow in Europe is Auschwitz which, along with the Birkenau concentration camp, lies just outside of Krakow, Poland in Oswiecim. As the largest Nazi concentration camp in Europe, it saw the torture, starvation and extermination of 1.5 million people, many of which were Jewish. Today, Auschwitz models as a major tourist attraction, drawing in crowds from all over the world who want to see for themselves the site of such mass destruction.
The main site is often riddled with visitors listening to the compulsory headphone guide whilst being herded from room to room without ample chance to pause and take stock of the atrocities before them. The Birkenau camp is less touristic and allows visitors the chance to wander through the site where millions of victims lived and, more importantly, died.
Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial Site
This is a site that I feel very strongly about after stumbling upon it by accident when I left Sarajevo. It is nestled inconspicuously in the twists and turns of the Bosnian countryside and goes unnoticed for the majority of the time, except by the people who live in the surrounding areas that are still being affected by the genocide that took place on the site just over fifteen years ago.
The memorial now lies where the Bosnian Muslims were held by Dutch peacekeepers that were protecting them from attacks by the Serbian army. But the Dutch couldn’t hold back the large numbers of Serbs for long before they raged onto the site and committed one of the largest genocides in history.
Today, the site is peaceful. On one side of the narrow road is a square, concrete building which is home to a simple but much-needed exhibition displaying some photos of the dead along with some of the trinkets that were found next to their bodies. The other side of the road is taken up by rolling green hills that are dotted with white, wooden gravestones to commemorate the dead. At the centre lies a circular monument etched with thousands of names in an attempt to remember those who didn’t make it. Unlike Auschwitz, the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial sees barely any visitors; not only is it particularly under documented, but the tragedy is still too raw for many of the nearby residents.
The Latin Bridge
It seems mad that one gunshot could trigger one of the worst conflicts in history. What’s more, it seems mad that it took place on this tiny stone bridge in the heart of Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo. But it did. The Latin bridge saw the shooting of the Arch Duke of Austria Franz Ferdinand and set into motion the events that would lead to the First World War. The assassination happened on the 28th June 1914 when Gavrilo Princip, one of six Bosnian-Serb assassins pulled the trigger on Franz Ferdinand and his wife in order to break up the south-Slavic provinces in Austria-Hungary.
I was shocked when I first saw the bridge. After studying it in history at school, I couldn’t believe it could be so small and insignificant, and I couldn’t believe that I was standing on it.
The Chernobyl disaster occurred in 1986 but the repercussions still play on people’s lips today. April in Ukraine almost twenty seven years ago saw one of, if not the, most catastrophic nuclear accidents in history. The issues surrounding it still remain under debate, but the cold hard facts reveal that the explosion that took place released huge quantities of radioactive poison into the air which spread like wildfire. Though the casualty count at the time only reached 31, the long-term effects of the disaster have led to cancer and deformities in nearby residents.
Today, curious visitors are allowed into the 30km exclusion zone with a day pass to explore the scene of the disaster. Independent travel is not allowed meaning that it is necessary to go through a tour company in order to get inside.
These sites offer a reminder of the past and the mistakes we can learn from. They are places of tragedy which force us to confront the past, but they also make us look to the future. Thousands of visitors attend these sites of sorrow every year, all with unique motives. One thing is universal, though; they serve as tangible reminders so as we never forget, as well as a visible site for victims’ families to mourn their losses.
Written by Lizzie. Lizzie is a full time marketing assistant and part-time travel blogger promoting the ways to get the most out of grab-it-when-you-can travel. She spends her time creatively thinking of ways to plan trips around her job and advocating the idea that you don’t have to be ‘homeless’ to enjoy the perks of frequent travel. Check out her blog at Wanderful World and connect with her on twitter.