This past week, I had the privilege to lead a mission trip – on which we served our neighbor, learned more about who God is calling each of us to be, and how to share faith in ways we might not see in our traditional setting. What a blessing to see friendships forged and strengthened, young people stretched, and minds open to new ideas. A week filled with noise – of the city, of the harbor, of work, of excited young people, and slightly stressed adults!
One of the most poignant experiences I had was in our visit to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. I have never seen such an exuberant and giggly bunch of youth turn into a somber, slow walking and reverent group of mature adults so quickly – and with no verbal prompting.
Before we entered the permanent exhibit, our intern pastor explained that this was a place for reflection and respect, though once we entered I am certain what we saw was enough to put each one of us in a state of, well, shock.
A visitor starts by waiting in line outside an elevator designed to look industrial, dark and scary. One notes at each point the amazing amounts of architectural detail put into every element of this museum, even the passageways from one level to the next.
Each person gets a passport with the name and story of a Jew alive during the Holocaust, which you follow up with as you go along. When you leave the elevator, you are at the fourth floor, greeted by grizzly photos of the remains of innocent people, who did nothing to deserve this horrible fate.
The fourth floor, first that you see, is full history to educate the visitor on what let up to the events, and although we, in hindsight, can say we’d never fall for Hitler’s lies, it is shocking to see how easy it was for people of the time to believe him. My heart sank with each new fact I read, and watching teenagers actually stop to read what was posted next to photos told me they understood just how much this impacted the world then – and how important it is for us to know today.
As the levels went on, we learned about different populations that were taken to concentration camps, what happened to people there, along with video and photograph illustrations. At times I wondered why anyone would record such horror, but I think it’s important to have proof, so that we never forget that real people suffered the way so many Jews did during this time.
I saw many visitors that needed to sit and have a good cry, to see the brothers and sisters that were valued so little, and to get a glimpse into the absolute terror they experienced, was more than hard to see. I choked back tears many times – especially reading (something I already knew) that handicapped persons, mentally or physically, and children too young to work, were sent straight to gas chambers.
As a person who feels memories tied to objects, I couldn’t hold back the tears when walking through the room that held just a small amount of the shoes that belonged to beloved children, children of God, neighbors to you and me. I felt guilt for crying – I had not suffered the way these people had suffered, and I had not felt the loss their families had felt, but I do think that I could mourn the loss, and mourn that the world let this happen.
When I left the exhibit, I was surprised to see that the person in my passport survived – she lost a child, and her husband though. I went to the memorial area, lit a candle, and said a prayer.
I remembered what the intern pastor said – these are OUR brothers and sisters. We share a past – and even if we hate someone, they are still our neighbors – meaning if we truly want to glorify God, we show them love. The last exhibits, talking of liberating the camps, had a large number of names of people who helped the Jews – even people who did not like Jews took them in, knowing this is what God would ask of them.
I recommend the museum to anyone – but especially those with a faith and questions about who is their neighbor. Fear and hate can be used to push an agenda with a guise of God – it is up to US to pay attention, to do what is right, never forget the Holocaust, and to honor it’s memory by preventing anything like this from happening again.