Painful History: Holocaust Museum provides sobering, powerful experience

Monica Clark/Staff Writer

Going to Washington, D.C., wasn’t necessarily for the educational experience. It was supposed to be a fun, enjoyable trip with our friends, and I did have a good time, but I hadn’t expected to be educated and moved by the Holocaust Museum.
The seriousness hit me when our group stepped under the grand foyer of the building. The usual bag search and metal detectors did not help my nerves, but it helped to put things in perspective. This was not a boring museum I was forced to go to: this was a memorial for all the people that were brutally killed in concentration camps, but more importantly a place that would solidify the idea that we cannot let this happen again.

The death toll of the Holocaust was astronomical. It is estimated that 6 million Jews were killed, 2-3 million Soviet POWs, 1.5 million Romanians, 250,000 people with disabilities, 200,000 Freemasons, 15,000 homosexuals and 5,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses were killed. The numbers are staggering.

But the numbers weren’t the thing that really struck me the most. Each person that goes into the permanent exhibit at the museum receives a small pamphlet describing a real person that was in the Holocaust. It tells how old they were, where they were born, who their families were, which concentration camp they were located at and how long they survived, if they did at all.

Throughout the entire exhibit, pictures of victims are constantly thrown at you from all sides, not letting you come up for air. I soon realized the intensity of the suffering they went through. I saw the skin stretched across the bones of people that looked more like skeletons. Everyone’s head was shaved so that no one was an individual, and their names were stripped away with their dignity. A number replaced their identity; to the Nazis they were only numbers on a page.
The Holocaust was the result of abuse and misuse of education in society. Children were not only encouraged to think racist, but they were taught to view “lesser” people as nothing more than a burden.

At the beginning of the Nazi reign, their actions were not as barbaric as they led up to be. What first started out as book burnings turned into the burning of the synagogues, the bombing of European cities, the lighting of the gas ovens in concentration camps and finally whole German cities going up in flames. It all seemed to be a grand plan to destroy humanity itself. German-Jewish poet Heinrich Heine said it simply: “That was just a prelude. Where they burn books, they will soon burn people.”

We simply can’t let this happen again. Nothing would destroy the world more than to have this occur again. And more importantly, we need to remember. Remember the suffering, remember the families, remember the children, cities, societies and all the memories, experiences and intelligence that was lost.

We cannot forget what happened as if it isn’t a part of our history or doesn’t affect the way we think. Educate yourself, read the books. As the poet Archibald MacLeish said: “Treat them as the things they are—the strongest and most enduring weapons in our fight to make the world a world in which the free can live in freedom.”

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