Not too long ago Matt had a rare week off of work. We took full advantage of it by taking a road trip down to DC. We planned on camping while we were there, but the rain and cold had other plans for us.
After we found a parking garage that accepted vans I took the obligatory “just in case you get lost or are kidnapped” picture with my phone that shows what the kids are wearing and what they look like (if you don’t do this already… you should).
I also had everyone wearing their matching “safety green” Run for Jon shirts so I could easily spot them in a crowd if need be.
Our first day there it rained. No… Not rained. Poured. It was also windy. We dropped a good amount of cash on the last two umbrellas at CVS and then got three more at a dry cleaner down the street. We were splashed by busses and cars more than once and the wind turned our umbrellas inside out so many times we eventually decided to put them away and just be resigned to getting rained on. So our first day in our Nation’s Capital was wet and cold… so we decided to spend it in the Holocaust Museum.
Highly appropriate in my opinion.
I did quite a bit of research on the Holocaust Museum in addition to talking to people who had been there before deciding to take the children. I didn’t want to scare them but I felt that it was very important for them to see and be able to remember the lives lost to tyranny and collectivism. First we went into the children’s exhibit which followed the story of a fictional boy named Daniel. His story followed the same path as millions of other children. It’s important for them to know that these children were just like them and that the horrible things that happened to them had nothing to do with any sin or default on their part, but was entirely due to the whims and prejudices of a few who were in control.
After Daniel’s Story we went upstairs to the full exhibit. It was really crowded and the two little boys were louder than I would have liked, but I don’t regret taking them in. I was worried that there would be huge pictures of the mass graves but if there were, I didn’t see them. There were a few videos behind concrete barriers that the boys weren’t tall enough to see. In them we saw pictures of people being stripped of all of their clothes and beaten or the bulldozing of bodies into the mass graves… I’m glad they were behind barriers and while it was very uncomfortable to see I didn’t feel like it was inappropriate for the children who were tall enough.
We saw the measuring instruments that were used to compare hair and eye color, nose and head size, and otherwise determine the “purity” of someone’s race by their doctors. If you had too many points against you, you were deemed impure and were marked for the process of elimination. I explained to our kids that, given the “purity standard”, Jack would likely be the only one in our family who would have been spared.
I explained the meaning behind the tattoos on the prisoner’s arms and how dehumanizing is an important step in the process of getting the masses to accept these kinds of atrocities. I connected the dots between the conflict in some of the fictional books we have read as a family and the real life horror that people had to live through. Then we stood in front of a large picture of piles of hair that the Nazi’s had shaved from the heads of every man, woman, and child that made their way into a camp.
There were more displays than I could possibly count or remember, but the one that touched me the most was the explanation of the voyage of the MS St. Louis. In 1939 over 900 Jewish refugees fleeing Germany sailed on the MS St. Louis towards the New World. One by one, Cuba, the United States, and finally Canada denied them asylum. The US Coast Guard even followed the ship as it sailed along our east coast, refusing to allow it to dock within our borders. I must confess, after beginning to educate myself on our nation’s history, there are many times in which I have been ashamed at what our government has done in the name of progress… this is the one that horrifies me the most. I say I was “touched” by this display, but in reality I was angered and disgusted at the arrogance, bigotry, and utter cowardice displayed by FDR, his administration, and congress. If ever there were “…tired… poor, and huddled masses yearning to be free”, these refugees would have been it. The Statue of Liberty must have wept as she watched the stern of the ocean liner sail back to Germany. That event is a bloody stain on our Nation’s legacy.
Towards the end there were several displays showing just a few of the times since the Holocaust that other countries have done similar things to their citizens. When we say “never again” do we really mean it?
As we left the museum I had the children stop and read the poem on the wall:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.
How often we turn a blind eye when injustice is happening because we personally haven’t been affected or don’t agree with their cause. And how often do we allow public opinion to sway our support for ALL people and beliefs to claim liberty. The Holocaust and Holodomor are some of the things that I have made a point to talk to my children about on a regular basis. I don’t want them to be blind to the evils that invariably happen when government has more power than the average person. One of the things I have done is start a collection of children’s books on the subjects and hope that the lessons in them stick. So when I read the poem to the kids and started to explain the meaning, Lucy stopped me and said, “Mom! That poem is JUST like the book Terrible Things!” I’m grateful that we were able to go as a family and that there is another museum in NYC that Matt and I can visit without the children. I would really like to be able to take more time learning and paying my respects than we were able to this time.
It’s SO difficult to teach our kids about these heartbreaking subjects but we have to do it! Yes they are uncomfortable, yes they give us icky feelings and make us angry and sad. Yes they bring us to tears and make us sick to our stomach and drive away the happy feelings of the day… but they are necessary for building future Corrie Ten Booms, and Oskar Shindlers, and Dietrich Bonehoffers and Irena Sendlers. If we don’t actively create those extraordinary men and women in our homes our world will end up full of Heinrich Himmlers, Neville Chamberlains, and the millions of other nameless, faceless sheep that gleefully followed the Nazi’s down to Hell.