Originally, these next two posts were supposed to be one post. But it turns out that I am not only verbose but also extremely long winded, the combination of which means that the posts must be divided.
I feel that this sign very accurately captures day three in Washington D.C. I know the posts below point to the fact that every day was busy, but this one FELT more busy than any of the others. And I did learn a few things from my counseling classes…no one can argue with my feelings. 🙂
When making my mental list for the sites that I wanted to hit when in D.C., the Holocaust Memorial Museum was my first pick. I know to some it might seem morbid, but ever since I took World History in school and learned about World War II this time period has been fancinating to me. I first heard about this museum when I was in Israel and since then have only heard how impactful it is.
Apparently, the way D.C. works is that most of the museums and exhibits there are free. This means they COST NOTHING. (Boy, would I have fun if I lived on the east coast…) The only catch is that some places have limits on how many people can make it through the venue within any given day. For this problem, they hand out a certain number of tickets to limit the number of bodies crushed into a small space. (For which I am eternally grateful…)
My parents and I got up in enough time to get to the metro station and make the 15 stop train ride to the Smithsonian exit. This exit was about a block away from the museum and we hastily gathered with the other people vying for tickets for the day (not getting a ticket was NOT acceptable). Providentially, we were able to make it in with the much-sought-after ticket.
We had some time before we had to be at the main exhibit, so we took some time to go through the rest of the museum and eat lunch before making our way there. For those of you not familiar with how the Holocaust museum is set up, you grab a little booklet about the size of a passport at the beginning of the main exhibit. This booklet contains the story of a real-life person to live through World War II and the Holocaust. At each section of the exhibit, you read what your person’s story was during that time period. The last page of the booklet tells you the fate of your person.
Then, they put you into an industrial-like elevator and you watch a short film on the way to the first floor of the exhibit. There are four floors total, each detailing the history of each part of the Holocaust.
The first floor starts with the Nazi (and Hitler’s) rise to power, the second floor shows the beginning of Jewish persecution and America’s response (or lack thereof), the third floor feels darker and heavier and deals with the bulk of the concentration camps, ghettos, and death camps. Finally, you reach the fourth floor which gives you the resolution of the war and the lives of those that survived.
After going through it in its entirety, I can say that not only is it emotionally exhausting, but also leaves you on information overload. There are so many things to read, so many pictures that capture human life before and after the madness.
On one level, there are thousands or maybe even millions of shoes tossed into massive piles. The caption above reads: “We are the shoes, we are the last witnesses. We are shoes from grandchildren and grandfathers, from Prague, Paris, and Amsterdam, and because we are only made of fabric and leather and not of blood and flesh, each one of us avoided the hellfire.” – Moses Schulstein
I think the thing that stands out most to me was at the very end of the exhibit. They had a video playing on a loop of survivors speaking of their experiences during the death marches and end of the war. I can’t imagine going through what the survivors went through…but that’s exactly what the video did. It made me think about what I would have done in their shoes. Would I have survived? Would I have died? What if I could have helped them? Would I have risked myself for my fellow human being?
Those kind of thoughts really bring to reality the pages of history.
I wish I could post some pictures that could convey the depth of all I saw and felt, but I couldn’t take many because of the restrictions inside the exhibit. Here are some of the few I was able to take.
Downstairs, they have a children’s tile wall. The tiles depict children’s reactions to the Holocaust and cover a huge wall.
This is one of the entrances to the museum
Other than watching West Wing and keeping up a bit with the presidential election race, I’m really quite out of touch with what is happening in the world. It’s so easy to be isolated from other people’s problems. For me, the Holocaust Memorial Museum was important because it shows with extreme clarity what can happen when we all become self-focused. And that is a sobering thought that is well worth further consideration and a changed life.