This morning, as I was catching up on my blog reading, I ran across this post about The Holocaust that put me back a few years to when I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. I only had an "intellectual" understanding of the Holocaust; it wasn't until I walked through the museum that I more fully understood what others had endured.
All the knowledge of the holocaust I had was obtained by books and history lessons. I listened as teachers taught about the horrible atrocities and listened when others said that "it never really happened." I researched the Holocaust in college so I could write an "A" paper on it. I thought I knew a lot about what happened in Germany during WWII when Hitler reigned supreme. I knew absolutely nothing until I walked into the Holocaust Museum. The museum took my breath and heart away.
Inside of the museum, the events of Hitler's rise to power, WWII and the Holocaust are etched into one's mind by words, pictures and sound. The stories of the soldiers, the spies, the governments, and the every day people are told in vivid black and white photography; there are no shades of gray in the photos. I walked through the rooms wearing my leather shoes while looking at the mounds of shoes that were taken from the dead for their leather worth. I walked through the rooms lit by fluorescent bulbs while gazing upon the lamp shades made from human skin. Looking through my own eyeglasses, I saw the heaps of spectacles from those who had been annihilated in the gas showers; the rims kept for the metal. As I walked through the rooms in the museum I was overwhelmed by grief. These "things," the leather, skin, eyeglasses, were more valuable than the human who wore them. The museum was consumed by all those who gave their life to build this monument to an era of history that so many wish they could forget.
I walked into the room that held the "symbols" of all those who had to be marked by the beast. I saw an actual yellow star that had been pinned to a Jew. I saw an actual pink triangle that marked a human as a homosexual. I saw other symbols that labeled people as less than human. I wanted to scream but I remained silent.
The family photos on the wall, the linen tablecloths, the children's toys all took on a somber meaning. Once items of joy to a family were now memories of things they would never see again once taken from the ghettos. Even seeing each other was a day to day luxury; removed not by death but by hatred which would ultimately lead to their death or a painful memory if they survived.
I walked silently through each room that told the story of human lives until I came upon the train car that transported the "less than humans" from the ghettos to the camps. My hands trembled as I looked at the outside of the box car. I read about these box cars. The history books tell of "hundreds" of people packed into a single car; standing room only, as they rode to their new home in the death camps. I didn't want to go into the box car but my mind and my feet had already carried me in.
I stood silently as I looked around the small train car. How could "hundreds" of people have fit into an area that was no bigger than a small hospital room? How could "hundreds" of people stood for days to reach their destination. How could "hundreds" of people survived the foul smell of human excrement? How could "hundreds" of people handled watching those they loved die while standing next to them? Could I have survived holding the dead body of a loved on up with my own body?
I don't know how long I stood there. I don't know when the tears started to flow from my eyes. I don't know when I began to hear the screams of the children crying out for their mothers and fathers. I don't know when I felt the heat of the ovens. I don't know when I started to smell the rotting flesh. I don't know when I started to feel the ashes from those men, women and children who were burned in the ovens fall on my flesh. I don't know when all those sensations started but they stopped when I opened my eyes. By opening my eyes I could stop all those feelings but those that endured the reality could never open their eyes and make it all go away.
I know some would like never to hear of these atrocities. I know that some wish they could forget. Maybe I have the luxury of being able to remember because I would never have been told to wear a yellow star or another identifying mark that would separate me from others. I would not have been herded into a box car to be driven to my death. In that time era, I would have been safe from the harm these people endured.....but what about the future?