He is 75 or so and an American Christian. He stood before me not bothering to choke back tears, explaining the visit to holocaust museum while in the Holy Land. I listened and thought how could, weeks after returning, this still be so emotional. I understand now.
I converted to Judaism recently. During, but not part of my conversion process, my fiancé-now-husband and I visited some of the first synagogues in the Southeast. I also, finally, visited the national Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. I didn’t visit while I lived there because it was not an experience I wanted to have by myself.
No words can describe the impact a place has on a person with the capacity to understand it. Honestly, there were some exhibits I avoided. I realized when I walked through a train car I wasn’t going to be able to complete the museum without sobbing. And, do you know, I felt ashamed for wanting to cry.
I don’t remember at what point I finally forgot my shame and buried myself in my hunny’s arms, struggling to control my sobbing. I felt like I didn’t have the right to feel the sorrow that had overcome me.( In retrospect, any human untouched by it – isn’t paying attention. It is devastation.) I just wanted out of there. It was at this point I started skipping portions.
I couldn’t bring myself to examine the model of the crematorium housed in replicated portions of Auschwitz. There was display after display of clothes and other personal items, glasses, briefcases, shoes which belonged to the victims. It personalized everything. The desecrated Torah from the Night of Broken Glass – desecrated only because it is the Jewish Holy Book. The first picture you see when you enter the exhibit is clothed soldiers standing over a mass grave of slaughtered emaciated Jews. It’s an overwhelming exhibition – to even call it an exhibition diminishes the horror. It is an overwhelming moment in history.
The “silent” victims of the Holocaust are children. Displayed in the museum are children’s drawings. Understanding a little about what children communicate in their drawings, I was amazed to see hope portrayed in the ones on display in the main exhibit. The resilience of children and a parent’s ability to instill hope are evident in those drawings. However, the fact remains 1.5 million CHILDREN died in the Holocaust.
I stumbled upon a project—The Butterfly Project http://www.hmh.org/ed_butterfly1.shtml . The Huston Holocaust Museum has initiated a project to collect 1.5 million butterflies for an exhibit to recognize the death of the children. The museum has collected around 900,000 butterflies to date. The closing date for this project is December 31, 2012. The exhibition is scheduled for Spring 2014. All are invited to participate. The Butterfly Project is based on a poem written by Pavel Friedman (b. 1921 –d. Auschwitz 1944.)
If you have ever been the victim of a bully because of how you look, your religion, your race or your hair color — if you have ever experienced discrimination at work because of your family situation, your sex or your value system – if you have ever felt oppressed or singled out by your weight, your height, your ethnicity or your accent – I encourage you to participate. Become aware of how easily hate grows. Become aware of what people do because of hate in the name of some other value. Become aware that it can start with something as simple as hair and eye color. Become aware and speak up.