05 January 2014

My Visit to The Holocaust Museum

The Holocaust Museum made me want to scream as loud as I could, sob in shivers, punch a wall, and stare in disbelief.  Oddly, I did none of these things and instead mumbled numerous times under my breath, "How could this f*&^ing happen?"  

What the NAZIs did, and said, and were, seemed so absolutely far removed from anything resembling our world, and yet it did happen, and not that many years ago.

In most of the museum, you use your sense of sight to read or watch about the horrifying acts that took place.  But the moments when they captured your other senses, are the ones that I remember most.  

I couldn't bear to stay in the train car for more than a brief moment.  Physically being present, my feet touching the wooden bottom of a train car where 100 Jews were packed in like cattle to be transported to concentration camps was almost too much to handle.  In another room there are thousands of shoes, and the stench of burnt leather immediately permeated my nostrils.  It was these sensory experiences that made it too real.

Then there was this quote which captured the feelings I had of helplessness, of being unable to do anything about it now…

The poem, "Babi Yar" was written by Yevgeny Yevtushenko about his visit to Babi Yar 20 years after the NAZIs slaughtered 34,000 people in just 2 days in this ravine outside Kiev, Ukraine.  He showed up expecting to see a memorial, but instead saw a garbage dump.

The wild grasses rustle over Babi Yar.
The trees look ominous, like judges.
Here all things scream silently, and, baring my head,
Slowly I feel myself turning grey.
And I myself am one massive, soundless scream
Above the thousand thousand buried here.

A soundless scream of what can I do, I thought.  Then I walked to the end of the museum exhibits where they document the horrors in Rwanda in 1994, Bosnia in 1995, and Darfur in 2003-2005.  How can genocide still be allowed to exist?  Now I didn't just feel helpless, I felt hopeless too.
“When we say ‘never again,’ what does it mean?”
—Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor
In this exhibit of the most recent genocides there is a spot for visitors to answer a question on a piece of paper and place it in a large glass case.  The question asked, “What will you do to meet the challenge of genocide?"
I answered that I would share the stories I heard in Uganda from the women there who fled for their lives from Sudan, many whom lost fathers, brothers, husbands, and even children.  Those who were forced into sexual slavery or to become child soldiers themselves.
As I added my small slip of paper to the others watching it absorb into a case of well meaning intentions, one caught my eye.  It made my visit, and every emotion with it, feel worth it, feel validated, feel hopeful, feel like by only learning about the past can we learn to make a better future.
It was in a child's handwriting, and it said,
What will you do to meet the challenge of genocide?
I will not call people names because they are different.

What a perfect call to action for an imperfect world.  More love.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you found your visit to the Holocaust Museum meaningful.
    Both of my mother's parents are Holocaust survivors so it's an era in history that is pretty closely related to my identity.