Today I was ever so humbled when I visited the National Holocaust Museum. Civil rights issues, segregation, injustice, etc. have always been an interest of mine, so this was something I looked forward to.
I know everything about the Holocaust….or so I thought.
I cried for the entirety of the tour. Each half hour I would have to hide behind a wall and wipe the tears from my face, then muster up the strength to move on to the next section. The experience was surreal.
I can’t even fathom being put in a position where I am banned from my occupation, sports team, local movie theater or market. Stripped of my personal belongings down to my shoes, razors, hairbrushes. Even gold fillings for teeth. Separated from my mother and father who I will never see again. Treated like an animal. A slave. A number..
I knew the Holocaust was a severe and ruthless genocide, but I was never informed on the gruesome details. Women stopped menstruating due to malnutrition. Young children were subject to “scientific research” and often lost their limbs or their life in the process. One woman recalled getting her head and privates shaved, then after hours of chaos asked an SS soldier where her mother was. The man walked her outside and pointed to the smoke coming from the incinerating barracks.
The living situation was unbearable. These people were left a slice of bread or less. Of the 50,000 who made it out of Auschwitz, 17.000 died only days later because their bodies were so fragile.
I have seen Schindler’s List and Sophie’s Choice. I have watched several documentaries focusing on the concentration camps. Nothing compares to what I forced myself to witness today.
In the beginning of the exhibition, you are given a passport. Inside this passport is a real victim of the Holocaust. As you are lead through the tour, it explains who they were and what they did. Ironically, the one I received was Hanna.
She was a young woman from Poland. She attended public school then business school. She established a nursery school with her friend. In 1939, when the Germans invaded Poland, she fled to a Soviet-controlled city called Lvov. There, she met the love of her life and sent her family wedding photos of the happy couple. They moved to Kielce near his family. Her husband, Kygmunt, returned to Lvov to grab false papers to protect Hanna and himself. While he was traveling, she was taken and never heard from again.
I am a strong person, but today I wept. My heart wept. The Jews were abused solely for being born Jews. Their innocence was taken. However, their story is not lost. As the hundreds of people visited the museum in the hours I was there, you could hear a pin drop. Silence and reflection surrounded the displays of those who perished.
Life is a gift. The people around you are a gift. I choose to embrace this fact. The opposite of indifference is love.
A quote from the Hall of Remembrance:
“First they came for the socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist.
Then, they came for trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then, they came for Jews and I did not speaking because I am not a Jew.
Then, they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me”