In my life I’ve visited only two prisons: 1st was few years ago, a present juvenile portuguese prison and the 2nd, few days ago, a former political prison from Berlin. Both visits reveled me important aspects, but now I will reffer more to the last one.
When I found out that we will visit a former Stazi prison, from GDR, I wasn’t sure what to expect. In fact, I didn’t have any expectations. I was just there, after a long (and nice) walk, for an official guided tour of the place.
What I would like to talk about is something that was totally present in my mind during the tour, which I think it’s an important point of reflection.
I am from Romania and I was 6 when the communist regime fell. Almost all my memories about that period are from books, collective – oral stories, TV shows or individual narratives. On the specific topic of the political imprisoning I mainly know stories from books. In Romanian literature there are lots of memorials of the attrocities that happend during the communist regime, inside these abominable places. When I was 16 I remember I was crying while reading a book of a former political prisoner and I couldn’t believe that people can be so cruel to each other and that those horrible horrible thigs were happening so close to me, in the very palpable, touchable ground of Romania, not so many years ago in the century I was born.
During the trip through Hohenschönhausen prison I had this very specific thought that “In Romania was way worse” and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Random facts and tortures from the books and stories I’ve heard all my life were appearing in my mind over and over again. You may say that is natural, lot of us were thinking about this – in our group discussion after the visit – I could observe that not only some of my colegues from Romania were thinking at the same, but also colegues from other places, as, for exemple, Lithuania.
Though, I can understand our reactions, one thing came in my mind after our reflection time, and that is that we should not compare sufferings.
From my point of view this is kind of, not only disrespectful, but dangerous also. People suffered more than we can imagine and I think that just one day without freedom can be devastating for a lifetime. We don’t talk anymore about freedom as a concept, but about brute reality, humiliation, torture, phisical and psychological pain. Sure we can see the differences between, but comparing the sufferences, when we are in a place where there was so much of it and taking it so easily after we just went there, for me it’s like saying that a very awfull ilness is better than another horrible ilness, after both pacients died.
So, my proposal is simple: whenever we encounter this kind of situations, just take some time of real and empathic reflection, and understand the mutuality and the “universality” of suffering, in this case of imprisoning, in other cases of war, social bias and so on. This humanistic perspective is important for me not only in the metter of remembrance approaches, but also for the present and the days to come.