Preventing Further Tragedy
Thomas Reith, a freshman, reflects on his experiences at the Holocaust Memorial Museum while on the Interfaith Fall Break Trip.
One of the highlights of the Interfaith trip for me was the visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. This was for a number of reasons: first, as a longtime student of the language, the field of Holocaust studies has always been of interest to me. Second, having previously visited Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and the Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas in Berlin, I was interested to see how the American memorial compared.
Upon first entering the museum, I was given an identification card detailing the life of a random Holocaust victim. After riding a large freight elevator to the fourth floor, I spent the next few hours walking back down to the first, viewing a chronological history of the tragedy. The journey culminated in the Hall of Remembrance, a large hexagonal room dedicated to the memories of the victims. A single flame burned on the far side from the entrance, and I stood for a while in silent reflection.
Overall, I found the museum very insightful. I especially appreciated its extensive debates about morality. For example, take the exhibit on the Nazi rise to power: starting with the defeat of the Central Powers in World War I, the museum attempts to explain how the German people were ethically blinded and allowed Adolf Hitler to take control. Another section of the museum described American reactions to the Holocaust, a part of history often ignored by our country.
I found one exhibition especially poignant: the hall of shoes. Near the end of the museum, I walked through a tunnel and found myself surrounded by actual shoes of victims in open Plexiglas containers. Their putrid smell filled the air, and I was reminded that all I had just seen and learned about was not just a story, but real history. This in fact is the museum’s greatest strength: it not only educates its victims, but allows them to see part of the horror for themselves. And so it accomplishes its mission: ensuring that nothing like the Holocaust will ever happen again.