This past weekend I had my first opportunity at visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I wasn't prepared for what was to come.
I've always been interested in expanding my knowledge to the fullest extent when it comes to the Holocaust. I'm also fortunate to be able to teach about it during the eighth grade curriculum's unit on The Diary of Anne Frank. Last November I attended a workshop which gave me a whole new selection of resources, and it was then when I began planning this day trip to the USHMM.
I knew this would be something to affect me, but I wasn't prepared for the extent of which it did.
Immediately upon entering the museum, we were given the identification card of a person who existed during the Holocaust. At certain times, we were instructed to read more of our person's story, and at the end we would learn of their fate. I cheated and looked ahead.
It was then, before I even entered the first exhibit, that I learned I carried the story of a thirteen year old girl who had been gassed in a concentration camp in 1942. I placed her story booklet in my pocket as I viewed the first series of exhibits. The weight of her fate burdened me as I continued through each room.
All I kept thinking about was the lost potential. Each exhibit horrified me more and more and despite my extensive knowledge of the Holocaust, I was still absorbing all of this new information. The knots formed in my stomach and rose to my throat as I continued.
So many people. So much devastation.
And then the rail car came. And as I walked through the enclosed cabin, I began to feel the weight of thousands piling against me.
In each room, the girl's story I had in my pocket, had felt heavier and heavier.
And then I saw the shoes. The pictures I've seen before couldn't have prepared me for the sadness I felt.
And then there I spied it, a single small shoe: that of a child.
It was then that I couldn't carry the weight of my sorrow any longer.
My mom had been with me at the time, and ever since I've been a little girl, she's always said I've been able to feel the sadness of other's so much deeper than most people. Here, I finally felt the weight of all those years piling up. I sobbed into my mother's shoulder, not understanding how these horrors could have ever happened.
There had been so many people... exterminated.
And the children... who never had the opportunity to grow up, and fall in love, and celebrate life.
How could this have happened?
I left, shortly after seeing the shoes. I couldn't finish the remaining exhibits. I found the memorial room and I stood, in the silence. I said a prayer for them. I said a promise for myself.
One of the core foundations I use in my class while teaching about the Holocaust is the responsibility of which we all bear to continue to be educated and to continue to educate. We are the responsible ones for the future. We must go forth into tomorrow and learn, and then with the tomorrows that come after that, we are to go forth and educate others. We are members of a global society. These people who were murdered throughout the Holocaust cannot die in vain. These people are our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. They are you and I.
I'll leave you with the same remarks that I leave with my students. We cannot stand by and witness the atrocities happening in the world. We must stand up for even those that are unlike us. We must fight for justice in the world. You have the potential to change the world.
A poem by Martin Niemoller:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
"I have no special talent.