An Unexpected Enlightenment in D.C.

By Delphi A. ’18
Photos by Evershea A.’18

Spirits were high as we began at the Museum of American History. The museum was vast and with only an hour and a half to spend, we began soaking in the exhibits at once. Much to my surprise and pleasure, most of the exhibits were very interactive, and exhibit topics ranged from politics and economics to science and technology, to fashion and toys.

After a lunch on the grass, our stomachs were full and social needs satisfied, and we headed to our next destination: the Holocaust Museum.

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Once passing through security, we gathered by the elevators as the docent passed out fake passports with personal information inside and explained that we would be experiencing the Holocaust through the story of one victim. We were then loaded onto the elevators about 15-20 at a time.

From the moment the elevator doors closed, the experience became more intense and moving than any of us who had not visited the museum before expected it to be. Witnessing even the depiction of genocide is no pleasant thing, but the museum is also a memorial. Its goal is to educate visitors, and provide a sanctuary for mourning.

The passport I was given was that of Nina Szuster, born in Rokitnoye, Poland on May 18, 1929. It told her life story, from her birth into a diverse Jewish family (her father was an Orthodox Jew, her brother was a militant Zionist and her mother leaned towards communism), through her experiences during and after the war. Standing in front of images of cordoned off Jewish communities in Poland, I read about Nina being forced into a similar one. The passport then described her daring escape.

“One night, the Germans suddenly began dragging people out of our house. I tried to get some clothes but a German grabbed me and yelled, ‘Quick or I’ll kill you!’ I tore myself away and ran to the kitchen. Then I heard a shot: My uncle was dead. I saw an open window and jumped out. Fortunately, it was foggy, so no one saw me slip through the barbed wire.”

Standing in the dimly lit hallway surrounded by images of the horrors from which Nina had barely escaped, the words I read suddenly became so real. It was easy to put myself in her place. Easy, but painful enough to make me cry. And she was one of the lucky ones.

When it came time to leave, even those of us who are usually quite loud were too emotionally drained to yell or cheer or race each other to the bus. We found our seats and settled in for what we knew would be a long ride.

About an hour and a half into the trip home, the heaviness and exhaustion the Holocaust Museum began to lift, and as our energy returned, so did our voices. Once again the back of the bus began to get a bit rowdy. But from midst the ruckus came a single voice quietly singing the Star Spangled Banner.

The yelling continued, but then a second and third voice joined the first. Before long, the a number of juniors sitting nearby were singing in quiet unison.

This left me conflicted.

It would make sense to sing the national anthem after a moving experience at the Museum of American History, but is it right to sing it after the Holocaust Museum? The answer: Yes. We had mourned, and we would remember the horrors and depravity others suffered not very long ago. But having taken in that experience, it was time for us to make our way out of the darkness and rejoice in the fact that we are lucky. We singing students have never had to face suffering like that endured in the Holocaust, and, perhaps the lessons we learned will help us ensure that no one else ever does either.

 

 

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