The Museum

December 30, 2009
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Black and white pictures of a tyrannical Hitler, names of camps and numbers of the dead. To the average child, the Holocaust seems only a history lesson in a school textbook. Pictures are just pictures. It happened years ago. But history came alive the day I visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The Holocaust was no longer just a story. Dead people were no longer just dead people; they were mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, grandmothers and grandfathers. No matter their religion or their ethnicity, they were all human beings, human beings who loved and bled.
I stood looking through the glass of the display case. From inside, the faces of little white people stared back at me. Their anguished faces were pleading, begging for mercy. What had they done? Nothing. Nothing at all.
There were mothers and fathers, holding their children’s hands, pulling them slowly along, comforting them. “Everything will be alright, little ones,” I heard them saying. “Everything will be alright.” The guards cursed and shoved them along, down the stairs. Down, down, down.
I peered closer into the glass. The flood of little white people was downstairs now, all crowded into a whitewashed room. They were undressing as commanded. Mothers helped their children remove their shoes and clothes. Husbands shielded their naked wives from the glares of strangers. Clans huddled together whispering, “Everything will be alright, brothers and sisters, everything will be alright.”
Then the command came to enter the shower. Leave clothes, you will get them later. Go, now. The people crowded into the shower and stood and hoped and waited for the cold water to come raining down on them. But it never came. Only pellets rained down that day. No cleansing water, just cleansing death.
I stood, lifting my gaze from the crematorium model. I glanced around the exhibit hall. Children were laughing, parents scolding, and teenagers texting. They drifted by, moving through the museum. The room was soon empty, except for one man.
He stood on the other side of the model, his head bent, his eyes closed. He wore a long, grey beard. On his head was a black kippah. His shoulders were drooped, as if his prayer shawl were some great burden. Clasped were his wrinkled hands.
The man opened his eyes and stepped back. I expected him to leave, but he just stood there, staring at the little white people and the little white guards in the little white building. He held out his hands. They were white and old, perhaps worn from years of hard labor. A single tear trickled down his weathered cheek.
He could have been a husband shielding his naked wife, or a father carrying his whimpering child into the shower chamber. He was a Jude. He had done nothing wrong. Nothing, except to be born.
He reverently bowed his head, then slowly turned and walked out of the room. A tear rolled down my cheek.

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