Thursday, April 2, 2009

April is Genocide Prevention Month

I do not proclaim to be a fantastic, motivational writer...nor am I as informed on world events as I would like to be. However, when I am aware of something that I feel passionate about - I do tend to share it, and this is something that I feel passionately about. So, this will definitely be my "heaviest" post ever, and a bit graphic (by description, no pictures) in there's your warning. That being said, I really hope that you will take the time to read this post (bookmark it for later if you have to)!

I was working on finishing up that giant post on my D.C. trip (coming soon) and on my last day there we visited the National Holocaust Memorial. I really wanted people to read some of the things I saw, and had to say...but this section of the post (once again) was so long that I decided that it better become its own post. So, I am going to cut and paste what I'd written on this topic on my D.C. post right here now:

The last thing that we were able to see in D.C. ended up being the Holocaust Memorial. I was so grateful that we were able to make it there too - it was at the very top of my list of things that I wanted to see while we were there. I have, like many other people, always had an interest in WWII. There is so much about that era that needs to be understood and remembered. I lived in Germany for 18 months (where it is still difficult for people to talk about the war), I have my Bachelor's degree in German (& psychology), and continue to love reading anything that has to do with the war - particularly untold stories, or stories that tell a less known aspect of the war.

We stopped for a picture outside the memorial before entering. Behind us was a sign that said, "The next time you witness hatred, the next time you see injustice, the next time you hear about genocide THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU SAW" - and, for me, what I saw in that memorial was ultimately humbling, thought provoking, and motivating. I'll come back to this later...

When you begin your tour of the permanent exhibit you are told to take a gender specific "identification card" (that has a picture and story of a holocaust victim or survivor) before loading the elevator up to the fourth floor. We watched as they filled the elevator before us and I was struck with the subtle ways that things were designed to bring about the imagery of Jews being loaded into train cars before being sent off to camps. On the elevator a somber tone was set for the memorial, and we were asked not to take any photos (hence the lack of pictures in this post). Upon exiting the elevator a reverent hush automatically fell over us, and we gradually split up moving through the exhibits at our own pace. The fourth floor covered the years 1933-40 (rise of Hitler to power, exclusion of the Jews, and the buildup to WWII including the invasion of Poland). Moving down to the next floor...the third floor covers 1940-45 including the concentration camps, killing centers, and ghettos. And the second (and last) floor focuses on resistance efforts, rescue & liberation, and the post war years (including a continuously running film of Holocaust survivor testimonies).

First let me continue by mentioning some of the things I learned, or images I saw, that still stand out the most to me a few weeks later:

  • While there were several parts of the memorial that yanked at my heart strings, there were only two times that I actually had to pull out my kleenex (and let myself cry):
  1. The first was an area that talked about the Nazi's "euthanasia" program (carried out by doctors) on people with disabilities. Those with physical or mental handicaps (ranging anywhere from being deaf, blind, or having a deformity - to those with retardation, mental illness, or even alcoholism) were originally forcibly sterilized. The diagnosis of "feeblemindedness" provided grounds for the majority of the cases. Later the disabled (who were deemed "unfit for the Aryan master race") were sent to designated institutions where they were killed in specifically designed gas chambers. Children & infants were also murdered by injection or starvation. From this program emerged the model which Nazis later used to murder the Jews, Roma (gypsies), and others. The heinous murder of each & every innocent person during the Holocaust is reprehensible, but there is something even more disturbing & monstrous to me about the murder of such a vulnerable class within our human race...There were photos displayed of handicapped children (I remember that one of them had downs syndrome) being held down. They looked scared and confused, one was crying. The pictures were taken just before these sweet children were murdered. I don't know why this detail made such an impression on me...but it really also stood out (and affected me) that the people holding these children down were women. More than 200,000 people with handicaps were murdered between 1940-45.
  2. There were continuously running videos surrounded by cement walls, so you had to be a certain height (and therefor hopefully an older age) to be able to look over them to see the videos. The content was morbid and graphic, and my instinct was to turn away...but I felt a strange sense of responsibility not to. I watched as people were shot point blank, their lifeless bodies falling onto a heap of other corpses. Meanwhile a passing soldier in the video stood by smoking a cigarette until it was finished, and then he casually walks away in the middle of another execution as if he were bored with watching the whole thing. I saw people in lines being herded into gas chambers and I watched in horror as I saw a naked women, clutching her baby, being prodded heartlessly forward towards death. Obviously I have always known that millions of women, children, and babies were murdered during this Holocaust...but seeing video of it at this stage of my life just about tore my heart apart. I couldn't help but visualize myself in these women's position, and the idea of not being able to protect my babies in such a barbaric situation was almost more than I could wrap my mind around.
  • There was a room (on the 3rd floor, I believe) where you could sit and listen to the voices of survivors telling stories of their experiences. It was enthralling for me to listen to, and I wished that I could have sat and listened to it until it started over again.
  • I was totally unaware of the extent that both Denmark's government, and everyday civilians, went to in order to protect their Jewish neighbors. It's a fascinating story, just click here to read a great summary on the story of how they managed hide and help most of their country's Jews safely flee the country.
  • I felt so bad that Ann had to talk a guard into letting her come back into the exhibit to find me (because we needed to leave to catch our flight). I felt badly for two reasons - one because I'd been keeping everyone waiting for so long (over an hour), and two because I saw hardly any of the last floor (which is the more inspiring part to see - camp liberations, noble resistance efforts, and testimonies of survivors). I was so sad to have to run past most of the last floor's exhibit, but I couldn't believe that it had taken me three hours to make it through only about 2/3 of the exhibit either.
  • Other parts of the memorial that I was sad to not to experience include: the rotating exhibit on Nazi Propoganda (which I was excited to see since I studied that so much during college), talking with two Holocaust survivors (volunteers) sitting with no line at the exit of the permanent exhibit to answer any questions (!!!), videos & information on the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the Hall of Remembrance, the Wexner Learning Center (of particular interest to me being their information on today's genocide in Darfur), and whatever else I never even knew was there!

Don't get me wrong...I'm so grateful for what I was able to see at the memorial, but I just hope that I can go back again soon and dedicate an entire day to spend there with no time restrains - so that I don't have to rush myself through anything. I'd love to sit and watch all the videos, not rushing myself through any area of the memorial. I'd like to jot down thoughts that I have on a pad of paper as I go through the exhibit, see all the exhibits at the memorial, and even have plenty of time to spend browsing through the books at the gift shop. So! If you have the level of interest that I do in this section of history, and you're planning a visit to this amazing memorial - then I say give yourself the better part of a day there! And just today I ran across the museum's online exhibitions if you'd like to take a look at what interests you!

Let me just close this section of the post by referring back to the sign I mentioned outside the memorial. It said that "...when you hear about genocide remember what you saw". We all are aware of the Holocaust from WWII, and we're all aware of the phrase "Never Again" referring to the commitment to never again let there be another genocide. Yet there has, and it is happening again! For example, how much do each of us really know about what is going on in Darfur? I will openly admit how limited my knowledge on the topic has been. I have repeatedly told myself over the years that it's a topic I should research and be aware of, and after visiting this memorial I feel an increased drive to inform myself. Rather than summarizing what I know, and what I still need to learn - I'm going to post a few links that I've found on the topic and encourage each of you not to continue to ignore (like I have) the severity of what is happening.

It is so easy for us to criticize the Germans (or even the Americans/our government) for turning a blind eye to such horrible atrocities during the Holocaust...but how is looking the other way now any different? How is it any different for us to say, "I wish there was something I could do" with no action behind those words? If there is any reason to study the horrific details of the Nazi's control over people, and their systematic mass murdering - then that reason would be to understand what people are capable of doing to other people...and that it can happen (and is happening) again. Let's not be a generation that looks the other way! Let's honor the Holocaust victims the way that they would most want to be making their death mean something. Let their memory motivate us to do something about genocide...even if that just starts with being aware of it.

I would really love to hear from anybody that actually took the time to read this post. And, if you have any additional information or links about Darfur then I'd love for you to pass them my way.


Sylwia Lipinska Hardman said...

i read your whole post. i've watched holocaust movies since i was a little child in poland. probably when i was much too young, and they've permanently traumatized me. about 6 years ago when i was in Poland i went to Auschwitz, a camp not destroyed by the Nazis because they fled so quickly. it had a similar effect on me as your trip to the museum in DC. it was just too real to see and touch the places where people lived,were tortured, and executed. there was even a special spirit there. it was peaceful but sad, oh so sad. i was so grateful to have the gospel and the understanding of the atonement and the resurrection. Christ really has taken that pain upon himself, and i am so glad He did. somehow, it pain just has to end and go away. I'm glad He is the way that pain goes much in life is is just so hopeless with out Him.

Mark, Holly and Boys said...

I wondered if you'd read this post, Sylwia. I can only imagine the things you saw as a child. Also, I've never been to Auschwitz but I did go Sachsenhausen. Horrific, but I'm glad that I went.

kathy said...

Thanks for posting this. I think it's easy for to ignore problems that do not presently affect our lives in obvious ways. But whether we see it or not, every act of aggression and genocide affects us all.

Camille said...

Why is the Holocaust so interesting to us? Why are we so drawn to these people and their stories? Something in our hearts must be filled with horror and sympathy over what they went through, and a desire to know what happened so we can prevent its recurrence. I'm going to have to do some reading up on Darfur... Thanks again!