Many years ago I watched the movie Sophie’s Choice and I have never forgotten the painful choice Sophie had to make and how it haunted her. The thought of ever being placed in a position like Sophie to choose the life of one child over another is horrifying to me. And yet, such things happened – things more horrifying than some of these horror films devise as plot twists…things that once seen or known cannot be unseen or unknown.
When Schindler’s List came out both my parents watched it together. That was a rarity as my mother was not one to watch long serious movies. She was more of a comedy and musical movie watcher. But with my father being Jewish, the watching of Schindler’s List was more a somber obligation than an opportunity. My mom advised me not to watch the movie. She knew the realities in the movie would linger with me and wear on my psyche. I have not watched it to this day.
When Cheyenne first started saying she wanted to visit the Holocaust Museum in DC, I waited for her sudden interest to pass. I had heard a lot about the museum and I knew it held some unpalatable truths that I did not want to see myself lest I remember them vividly forever. But Cheyenne never moved on from her interest in visiting the museum and that interest became the cornerstone of our visit to DC.
We went to the Holocaust Museum today. We spent two hours there, but I could have stayed there all day. The silence just intensifies the somber displays. All those people – the horror of it all – it is so much to absorb even now. Roughly six million Jewish people were murdered during the Holocaust. SIX MILLION. How could such a thing happen? How could other human beings do what was done to the Jewish people during the Holocaust? How does one human being come to believe that they are superior to another – so much so that everyone who isn’t like them must die?
I was sickened by the things I learned and saw at the museum. All the faces, all the stories, all the shoes…combined they convey the horror of the Holocaust. As much as I wanted to look away, I could not. All of those innocent people whose lives were stripped away seemed to be there in the moment. Their pain and suffering demanded my attention.
Elie Wiesel said, “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.” I do not believe I will ever be the same after today’s visit to the Holocaust Museum. The atrocities I understood somewhat passively from books, movies, and documentaries were more completely brought to life. The horror of it all seeped into my mind and will remain there as a terribly sad and haunting reminder of our species’ capability for inhumanity. All I can do now is to bear witness.
Visit the Holocaust Museum – see the faces, the stories, the shoes – and when you are done, think about what you saw. And then, by all means, bear witness. Use your voice to ensure that this type of persection and genocide never happens again – anywhere.
Day one thousand four hundred and eighty-three of the new forty – obla di obla da