Holocaust Museum

Do not visit the Holocaust museum on vacation.  I hope none of you hearing this are misunderstanding me.  I think every man, woman, and child on this planet should see it, but don’t do it on vacation.

When you walk into the Holocaust museum as a 17 year old kid, you are expecting the same story you have heard your entire academic career—the Holocaust was bad.  Millions died.  I remember thinking this was going to be a great day.  I was in DC with my buddies, there was only one chaperone, and I had money in my pocket.  Wrong.  We walked in as a group of ten, splitting into our own factions.  Luke, Jerrad (my best friends), Austin (my girlfriend), and I started through the museum.  Before we reached the first exhibit, I looked over my shoulder and was overcome with excitement.

“Holy shit, that’s Ben Stein!” I whispered to Luke.  “We gotta get a pic.”  Our group nervously inched towards him and asked for a picture.  He said Ok with a solemn look on his face.  As we lined up for the picture, everyone but Mr. Stein was giggling, with the occasional “Beuhler…Beuhler…” being playfully spoken.  Regrettable.  The smiles would soon be gone, replaced with tears, frowns, and silence.

It has been so long now, that I cannot remember the order of the exhibits or exactly how many we saw, but the overall picture of the day has not left my mind, nor will it.  I do remember, though, the first thing we saw was a short Nazi propaganda film, setting the tone for what was about to happen.  I came out of the small theater with no change.  Yeah, Hitler was a dickhead.  I know that.  As we moved through the museum, my demeanor worsened with every exhibit.  I remember standing in a replica railcar used to transport Jews to camps.  For effect, the museum operator put as many people on as possible.  It was nauseating.  I was crammed in with a bunch of strangers, everyone touching and breathing.  I had to get out.

“This is how Jewish people were shipped,” the guide said.  “Like cattle.  Most of the time, the prisoners hadn’t bathed in weeks and were given scraps of clothing.”  I felt like puking.  How could a person ride like this for any amount of time?  After that, we walked by a recreation of the gas chambers, disguised as showers.  The guide explained that, to a prisoner, a shower was the last shred of humanity they held onto, so must jumped at the opportunity.  Once inside, the doors were locked and all were executed.  I started to feel angry.  I could not fathom how this could ever happen.  Anger turned to heartbreak as we went through the children’s section.  It was dedicated to the children of the Holocaust.  It showed pictures of children being ripped from their parents’ arms and shared the stories of children in the Holocaust.  That was the first time I cried in public during adolescence.  I did not feel it coming; it just started.  I wasn’t sobbing, mind you, but a steady flow of tears ran down my face.

While touring through this museum of hell, a common theme arose—this could never happen today.  No one will ever go through this again.  Wrong.  The final exhibit was titled “Genocide in the World Today,” or something like that.  It had two or three rooms dedicated solely to genocide happening now.  There were five or six instances, but the only one I recall is in the Sudan, due to media coverage.

“Jesus Christ,” I said to Luke as we were walking out, “that was heavy.”  He only nodded.  Our group gathered back together and everyone was in the same state—exhausted, disgusted, and, above all, sad.  We headed for the door and a big, framed picture caught my eye.  I walked over to it to look closer.  It was a memorial to a security guard who worked there.  He was shot while on duty at the Holocaust museum.  It mentioned his wife and young children.  Who the hell brings a gun here?!  One last gut punch on my way out the door.