Lessons from Hell on Earth
Back in September, I wrote about my first university deadline coming up. I remember coming back to my dorm room one afternoon and sitting down to write my CommonApplication Essay for my applications. A representative of Pitzer College gave a great talk about writing the essay and I would like to share some of his advice here. Think of the best story you know. Does it have someone who overcomes a struggle in it? Someone who learns through this struggle? Someone who is a different person at the end of the story than they were at the start? Now think of stories of your life that match this description. Then pick the one that is the most telling about you. He reminded us that the essay should be treated like an opportunity to have a little chat with an admissions officer. So put whatever you would like them to know about you after talking to you in that essay. With that in mind, I wrote about my reason for wanting to study politics, why it touches me, and how I learned about it.
I have received quite a few messages from you guys about writing the essay and how many drafts to write. I honestly only wrote one draft and this draft was my first and final draft. I wanted to submit it as I wrote it because I believed that the first draft would automatically also be the most authentic one. Whether you should do this or not depends on your writing style. You know yourself best - so ask yourself if the first thing you write is usually better or if you improve when you re-write, proofread and analyse. Many of you have asked for the essay I wrote so here it is:
LESSONS FROM HELL ON EARTH
Have you ever seen a dead body, deformed by malnutrition and physical violence? I have. At the age of 15. It was a man’s body. His identity had been reduced to a number and I looked at his picture while standing in the maintenance building of the Dachau concentration camp. His skin did not hide any of his bones and the cruelty that his body revealed made me want to look away. Standing in the very hall that welcomed him to hell on earth, I could not bear to look at him longer than a few seconds. I was overwhelmed by the inhumane crimes which had been committed in my home country less than a century ago.
Our tour guide reminded us of the reason for which Germany is preserving the concentration and extermination camps: they serve as a warning sign to future generations. When leaving the camp, I looked back at the huge area and promised myself that I would never be a bystander like the people who lived around the concentration camp. That I would stand up if I would know about injustice. No matter if I would be the only one standing or if I would be one in a million. Because anyone could become this man. Could be made defenceless and tortured. Could be stripped of their dignity.
I started doing research on the word ‘genocide’ and its meaning. I wanted to understand what the differences and similarities of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity are. I looked for case studies and realised that one thing these crimes have in common is that the international community has failed many of the victims. The number of case studies I found for these three crimes in the second half of the twentieth and the twenty-first century horrified me. I could not understand how the world could just look away. Had we not learned from Dachau? From Auschwitz? From Treblinka? Apparently not.
In the process of my research, I came across pictures that made me want to look away. It is hard to look at Kurdish children who died from gas attacks in Iraq, Tutsi women who were raped before being killed in Rwanda, or Yazidis who are currently being slaughtered by ISIS. But looking away is dangerous - it makes us believe that the environment we live in is everyone’s normal environment. I am a German who is currently living in Hong Kong, one of the safest cities in the world. I do not fear persecution or a weak rule of law. But too many people do. Every person having to fear the deprivation of any of their human rights is one too much.
After having participated in a refugee simulation of a closed camp, the instructor asked my group one question: How far would you go to save one of the refugees in such a camp if they would be your best friend? My answer was clear: As far as I would have to go. Many of the people facing human rights violations do not have someone who has the means to go as far as they have to go. I want to help them. This is the reason why I want to study Political Science - I want to understand how to make the international community speak out against perpetrators and deter, charge, and punish these crimes. I want to be able to make a change to the situation of the people whose voices are not heard by the international community of states. Because I want to look at the picture of the man at Dachau and be able to say ‘I did not look away. I learned.’
I hope that this helps some of you guys with figuring out what to write the essay about. I would recommend spending more time thinking about what to write the essay about than writing the essay because when you have the right topic, writing about it is easy.
Good luck to all of you who are writing their essays at the moment!
Lots of Love,