Sunday, November 15, 2009

It's always the shoes.

Recently I worked up the courage to do something I have meant to do for many years: visit the US Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.

Three years ago I consulted to a company in the DC Metro area and had many opportunities to visit the museum. But I couldn't bring myself to go.

I've regretted it ever since. Although I did not enjoy my afternoon in the museum, I'm glad I went. It's a living memorial to the millions who died during the Holocaust and a reminder of how fragile freedom really is.

I started with Daniel's Story, the exhibit for children aged 8-11. Let's just say I won't be bringing even my 11-year-old there anytime soon.

From there I worked my way through the exhibits in chronological order, as the docents recommended. The story of Nazi reign is told through photographs, films, eyewitness testimonies and artifacts.

Of course it was the shoes that got to me. The assemblage of shoes. The pile of shoes that were once on someone's daughter, someone's son, someone's child. The shoes of the victims. Although really, we are all victims. The clothes pictured above were once worn by someone who did not survive.

I find it chilling, chilling to the bone, that this all took place just before my parents were born.

It's been a long time since I studied World War II and I'd forgotten some of the details: how widespread the Nazi reach was, how the Nazi's had encouraged Aryan population growth, how long it took President Roosevelt to decide to intervene.

I spent a long time at the Righteous Gentiles exhibit, which told of the non-Jews who risked their own safety to hide Jews during this period, to help them escape.

Elie Wiesel is perhaps the best-known Holocaust survivor. His memoir, Night, tells of his concentration camp experience and he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. The museum has many of his quotes showcased on its walls and it took me right back to age 12, when I read the book in preparation for my Bat Mitzvah.

Twenty-five years ago I visited Yad Vashem, Israel's memorial. Yet this was different. Perhaps because I now have the wisdom of an adult? Or because this is my country's acknowledgment of the horror and our role?


Polka Dot Moon said...

It would be hard to go there and not be deeply affected by it. I think some need to be reminded that it wasn't that long ago that something so horrific happened.

Paige said...

I blogged about you just so you know.

mishel said...

Les - have you seen the movie The Boy in the Striped Pajamas? It chronicles just that and is devastating but so well done