Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Holocaust Museum

If you are ever in Washington DC and can only visit one museum, then I highly recommend the Holocaust Museum. It is dark, and yes, depressing, but it is also very well done and enlightening. It tells the story of a horrific time in history in a way that makes you see the bright side as well. The hope, the love, the belief in a better life that helped to hold many people together in a time that is beyond words for the horror that they endured.

To quote a sign I saw at the museum: "The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored, persecution, and murder of approximately six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators." (Quoted from

The Holocaust Museum looks like any other building on the outside, if you ignore the signs. It does not stand out as a blot on the history of the world, but once inside and having ridden the elevator up to where the exhibit starts, you see a black wall with black letters, the lighting is subdued. Even the children who walked through seemed to know this was not a place to run and play, but a place to be reverent and respectful. There was an unsettled quiet in the air as if people's emotions were floating around, including those of the dead. It was unsettling and yet at the same time fascinating to be able to look into the past and pray that we learn from it, that we do not ever repeat the horrors of this past.

One thing that was really nice was that being that Tom is a retired military we did not have to get tickets in advance. We were given immediate entry passes. When you first go in to get on the elevators there is rack with booklets which tell about some one who suffered through the Holocaust. Each person is encouraged to pick up a booklet and to check at the end of the exhibit on the computer to find out more about what happened to them. By luck of the draw I picked a woman and Tom picked a man. My woman died while hiding from the Nazis. She and her husband and two children were hiding in a stream for several days and her husband said that at one point she was there and then she was not. He is not sure if the Nazi's got her or if she drowned and floated off down the river. Can you imagine spending several days standing in a river hiding from the Nazi's? Imagine how cold and shriveled you would be, no food, unable to get dry and warm. To me that is torture, and it does not even begin to compare to the actual torture that the Nazi's inflicted on the Jews.

We saw videos of American, and British soldiers getting to the camps, rescuing the survivors. They came to Ohrduf Concentration Camp in Central Germany in April 1945. We saw video of Dachau Concentration Camp's liberation.

"The things we was beggar description...The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty, and bestiality were...overpowering..." General Dwight D. Eisenhower, April 15, 1945.

It was inhuman how they were treated. It is ridiculous that people can deny that the Holocaust happened when there is so much evidence the it did happen.

Walking through the exhibit were saw actual uniforms that were worn by the prisoners in the concentration camps.They were tattered and stained. These people were robbed of their lives and their homes. They were treated like animals, not as human beings.

We watched a video on the "Nazi Rise to Power" which showed the German Mark being used as wall paper in 1921 because it was worthless. The video showed work by Kathe Kollwitz a German Artist, protestations stating "Death to Marxism" and discussed Hitler's stint in jail, during which time he wrote"Mein Kampf" which means "My Struggle." Hitler blamed the depression on the Communists, the Jews, and the Versailles Treaty. By 1933 Hitler was the master of Germany.

The Jewish people had lived in Europe over 2,000 by 1933. Heinrich Heine wrote, "Where books are burned, in the end people will be burned." He was a Jewish poet and he wrote this when he books were being burned that were written by many authors, both Jewish and non-Jewish, before Hitler came into power.

One reason many people survived is because no matter what Hitler and the Nazi's did they could not stop them from thinking or take away their imaginations. Many who survived, did so because of their ability to picture things as different than they were.

Operation T4 was the Nazi code name for the systematic killing of the handicapped by using them for medical experiments. Hitler considered the handicapped to be inferior. A person who is handicapped is not inferior, look at Stephen Hawkings. Does it matter that he is in wheel chair? Not when you consider what all he has done for science.

Walking through the exhibit we saw a display of shoes from those who were gassed. The Nazi's kept them as if they were something to be proud of. The poem by this part of the exhibit began with the following words: "We are the shoes, we are the last witness..." by Moses Schulstein, a Yiddish poet. It was so sad to see all those shoes, a silent reminder of the six million Jews who were killed. There was also a picture of the hair piles from the concentration camp. The hair was used to stuff things, like pillows and beds.

The exhibit contains a train car and tracks from Treblinka. The car was actually used to transport Jews to the camps. Stacked near the trains were pile of luggage from Auschwitz. Suitcases in which they had packed their most precious belongs and clothing thinking they were were going to work camps, or simply being relocated, they had no idea they were going to their deaths. There were beds from the barracks at Auschwitz and Baden-Wooden. The beds were slats of wood where five or six people were huddled together for warmth and comfort. There was not mattress to soften the wood, and most did not even have a blanket for warmth. There were iron cast models of the ovens, and a table from a camp, with a hole for the blood to drain, where they had laid out the dead to pull out their gold crowns. There was also a diorama showing people lined up to enter the "showers," as they are gassed and transported to the ovens, and pile of bones.

More horrifying than this were the videos showing the pictures the Nazis took during their medical experiments, that included putting them in pressure chambers to test the effects and submersing them in freezing cold water until they froze to death. It was horrible to watch this form of torture. Hitler and the people who followed him and did his will were monsters. They were all sick, insane, people who needed to be locked away. What they did to the six million Jews, gypsies, handicapped, and others is a crime against humanity. What is even sadder is that many people let this happen, they did not believe what was happening and so did nothing.

There was poem by a Lutheran minister, Martin Niemolher, that says, "First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me." This poem is so true as many people turn their heads and ignore what is happening around them because it does not directly affect them. We all need to be aware of what is going on around us and to pay it forward, help others, and be there for our fellow man. If we do nothing history could repeat itself and we could end up with another Holocaust or something similar.

There were survivor stories on audios. They told of children being gassed when they arrived at the camps, as well as pregnant women. At the end the videos of survivors and liberators told their stories. On particular one stood out to me. It was a woman who told of an American soldier when he found her with a group of women in a barn after they had been marched there by the Germans. When she saw the soldiers she told the first one "I must tell you I am Jewish." The soldier responded, "So am I." She said at that moment she felt liberated. She also talked about a friend who died just before they were liberated. She said they had made a bet three years earlier. She said she would be liberated, her friend said they would not. She told her friend when they were liberated she had to get her strawberries and cream. This woman said she survived because her father told her to wear her ski boots. She said they protected her feet on the long, cold, death march. She said her boots protected her feed from freezing. Her feet did not freeze, like many others feet did. She said people' feet froze and their toes fell off.

Elie Wiesel said, "For the dead and the living must remember." We must never forget the horror of the Holocaust, or we are doomed to repeat it." I pray that we have learned from this experience and that it is never repeated. If we learn no other lesson in life, this lesson is the one should learn.

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