Summer Day Trip #2 ~ National Holocaust Museum ~ Washington DC

This past weekends day trip was a little more somber than our others have been, but very powerful. This was a day that had a lasting impact on my family. Something we will be talking about for weeks to come.

My husband is a historian with a special concentration in military history. So he was well familiar with the history of 1933-1945 in Europe. My grandparents on my mother's side are both from Germany and they emigrated to the US between the World Wars. I remember stories my grandfather would tell about surviving the First World War eating out of garbage cans as not to starve. So this era in history has always been very important to my family.

We began with "Daniel's Story" which followed a young boy from Germany and how he and his family survived during the war. He ended up in Auschwitz. His mother and sister were killed but his father survived. The artifacts and diary were powerful. He was just a young boy whose freedom was taken from him because he was a Jew.

The next exhibit was about the 1936 Olympic Games held in Berlin. Of course this years games will be held in China, a Communist country. Very interesting correlations between the two countries and their human rights violations. This created lots of discussion among the family, about politics, religion, human rights and the current state of affairs in each today compared to 1936. Jonathan had lots of questions and some really good observations.

Then we went through the "Permanent Exhibit". This was tough. You begin walking through a timeline starting in 1933 and ending in 1945 or so. The exhibit takes up three floors of the museum and about 2-3 hours to go through. There was so much to take in. Since it is a Memorial as well as a museum, the mood was quiet and somber. It was packed and I was amazed and pleased at the reverence people were showing. At times I felt great anger, then disgust. Tears fell quietly, especially for the children's plight, as I watched my son carefully push his sister in her wheelchair.

We were each given an "identification card" with the life story of someone who actually went through the Holocaust. Some lived, some died, all left something behind. It made going through the museum a very personal thing. I had waited to go until I knew my children were of an age to not have nightmares and be able to understand that there is real evil in the world. There were groups of high school and college students huddled all over the museum, quietly talking and discussing what they had seen. I would recommend, that if you are considering going, you prepare your children for the difficult things they will see.

The toughest part for us as a family was when we came to the part about the "T4 Experiment". This was where Hitler approved of the "mercy killing" of all those adults and children with mental and physical handicaps. I was stunned to be confronted with such brutality upon the most innocent. I quietly wept and prayed as Jonathan knelt beside his sister and told her how much he loved her and would never let anything like that happen to her. She had every right to live, she was a person too.

Jonathan was very angry for the next 30 minutes or so as we continued through. He just could not understand such evil in the world. "How could they let these people do this?", "Who was going to protect the mothers and children?", "Why didn't we do more to stop it?". All good questions, and thankfully Jerry was there to help me answer and discuss them.

They had a "Rescuer Wall" that named those who helped hide Jews or help them escape the country. Their were many catholics on that wall, priests, nuns and lay people. It was wonderful to see that some stood up and defended their right to life and liberty. The museum is fully handicapped accessible. There are a total of three visiting exhibits as well as the permanent one. I highly recommend this museum for high school age children and possibly very mature 7th or 8th graders. It is a powerful testament to strength of the Jewish people.
"I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."
Elie Wiesel