Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Travel Log 6 - The Holocaust Museum

Tuesday, July 31, 2007. 9:00 PM.

Today we visited the Holocaust Museum. It was horrific.

The most memorable exhibit was one of the first we visited. It traced the story of the Lodz Ghetto through the eyes of ghetto children who left diaries behind. The ghetto was led by Rumkowski, a Jew who rigorously worked the inhabitants to meet German demands, believing the majority would be the better for it. He did his best to provide hospitals and schools even in the worst conditions, but one of the many quotations on the wall caught my eye: "They have neither beards nor wives, but they are already working. The ghetto children must work." In the end, the children, the old, and the sick were carted off to extermination camps, leaving behind only those who were useful for labor. Reading the children's diaries, seeing their pictures, and gazing at their toys and tin cups for rations, made the children's fate at the exhibit's conclusion quite touching.

Then we moved to the main part of the museum, the part that told the whole story of the Holocaust. There were original Nazi propaganda videos playing, and displays of artifacts from Germany before the war. A plaque recounted how Nazi leaders nonchalantly discussed "the final solution" - genocide - at the Wannssee Conference in 1942. There was small, creaky a railroad car into which visitors could go to see the kind of transportation that brought Jews to the camps. A whole roomful of shoes spread out on the floor told the story of hundreds of unfortunate victims whose possessions were confiscated before their appalling fate. One plaque that captured my attention and my spirit described the uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943. Armed with only a few pistols and hand-grenades, the inhabitants resolved "to die like humans," and fought off the well-equipped German troops for nearly a month, until the whole ghetto was destroyed. To fall in a battle like that, I thought, is to perish unconquered.

Finally we saw videos taken by the forces that liberated the extermination camps. The horror was painstakingly documented on film. General Eisenhower said he was careful to observe everything first-hand, in case the facts were ever questioned. The videos showed hundreds of bodies, clothed and unclothed, in various states of composition, being disposed of by the allied commanders. The skeleton-prisoners left alive gulped down thin soup. Generals told the camera how they were working to clean up the mess, and what a big job it was. One British film showed and explained the horrors with German-Language narration, and directly informed the German people that they were responsible, not having stopped their government from committing such atrocities.

It made me think. In the situation of the German people during the war, what would I have done?

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