I have never ever, in the history of this blog, gotten political about anything. But I feel compelled today to break that rule and write a little about my trip to the Holocaust Museum a couple of months ago.
We went to Washington D.C. to visit family but we also squeezed in some site seeing and touristy things. Among the vast number of museums we toured, we made a stop into the Unites States Holocaust Museum. For me it surpassed all the other museums we visited. The other museums featured greatness -- all the wonderful things people have done in our history. But the Holocaust Museum showcased the horrors that people are capable of. It was powerful to say the least.
At the time I made my visit, we had recently heard a certain political candidate talk abut banning all those of a certain religion from entering our country. He was talking about building walls and separating people. He wasn't talking about sending them to gas chambers. He didn't say they should be sorted out and sent to special encampments. Not yet anyway.
When we arrived at the museum, they had just opened in the morning so we beat the crowds. We were able to walk right in and head down to the special exhibit "Some Were Neighbors". Here we saw photographs of smiling children in a school. Dance team members with linked arms. Children playing in the streets. The information text boxes for the photos pointed out which people in the photographs were Jews and which were not. The smiling children in the photos were getting along together much like we'd see today in photos of Little League teams, school groups, classrooms or dance teams. People of all religions, races and political beliefs, smiling and mugging for the camera.
When we turn the corner we see the tide start to shift. Suddenly people are being told to boycott Jew owned business. The stores they formerly went to to buy their bread or hardware supplies were now blacklisted and vandalized. The store owners who'd operated the family businesses for generations were suddenly being forced out of business.
We turn the corner and see it pushed a little further. Jews are being removed from their homes. Their belongings are taken from them. Their former friends and neighbors stand by and watch. Some even participate in the removal of these families from their homes. Some claim the property left behind and loot the belongings.
The time span wasn't overnight. It was gradual over the course of many months and even years. The people were fed propaganda. They were told that Jews were liars, thieves, and outsiders. That they were different and less human. That they're not like you and me. Sound familiar?
As we continued through the museum we were swept deeper and deeper into the lives of these people. The most poignant moment for me was when I looked down and realized I was standing on a glass floor encasing hundreds of spent bullets. Bullets removed from a mass grave of murdered neighbors. Bullets used to kill hundreds of men, women and children who dared to be born into the Jewish faith. Or who dared to be born homosexual, mentally or physically disabled, or gypsies. People who dared to be born different. As well as the people who dared to speak up about the injustice. Political dissidents suffered the same fate as the Jews, gypsies, disabled and homosexual.
I had my Boy with me on the tour and one of the guides suggested I take him to the children's display "Daniel's Story." We started in Daniel's home. We saw a cute little living room and kitchen. We went into Daniel's room where my Boy saw a sock monkey on Daniel's shelf. The Boy collects sock monkeys and holds Sock Monkey very dear to his heart. Take a look at the shirt my Boy is wearing as he pretends to try to open the glass case to free the sock monkey.
When we continue through Daniel's Story we see where he went to school, where he was suddenly finding that his former friends would no longer play with him because he was a Jew. Where his teacher ridiculed him in front of the class for being a Jew -- it didn't matter to them last year. Suddenly it did. We see the streets of his town turn dark. The corner where his father ran a store was vandalized.
We see Daniel and his parents and sister being forced to pack a bag of just a few belongings as they were moved out of their home and into the ghetto. We see the dark, depressing conditions of the ghetto where Daniel and his sister can no longer go to school. Instead they go to work in factories making supplies for the war effort. Then we see where Daniel and his father are forced onto a train to go to a concentration camp while his mother and sister are forced onto another train for a different concentration camp. Daniel never sees his mother or sister again.
The Boy wasn't used to sad endings. He teared up as he thought of his own sisters.
At the end there was a place where the kids could write notes or draw pictures for Daniel. He took them time to write a note of his own.
We left Daniel's Story to tour the rest of the museum. My oldest daughter decided to not continue. She was in tears and didn't want to see any more. She sat in the lobby. By this time the museum was getting crowded so we had to bypass some of the more busy sections. We saw artifacts of many of the murdered Jews. We saw shoes taken from Jews. Thousands of shoes. We saw photographs left behind. Thousands of them.
We saw ovens used to burn bodies
This museum was not for the faint-hearted. I found myself ushering my Boy away from some of the more graphic images and displays, but I still wanted him to get a sense of the horror.
I was especially horrified with the section displaying the systematic testing and murdering of about 200,000 mentally and physically handicapped people. This touched home with me because we were still undergoing evaluation for my son's autism. Doctor's were the ones going through medical files to single out the patients who would be "euthanized". Doctors -- the very people who these victims went to for help with their condition.
As we were leaving, I saw this on the wall:
Well I'm going to speak out now. And I will continue to speak out. We can not allow the hateful ideology that is so rampant in the current political race to seep into our minds and plant the seeds of hatred that will grow into another holocaust. We are Americans.
"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
As an American citizen, I'd like to invite the candidates to tour the museum. For all our sake.
Lisa On Location Photography