Washington D.C. Day 2: Holocaust Museum

Last night, I stayed with my parents in the Fairfield in Chantilly, near Dulles Airport. I had a decent continental breakfast from its lounge, well stocked with donuts, muffins, bread, waffles, toast, yogurt, fruit, coffee, juices, etc. After breakfast, my parents dropped me off at the Tysons Corner Holiday Inn to meet some friends. I stayed at the Holiday Inn for the next two days with everyone else attending the wedding.

My friends and I took the metro downtown. Emerging from the station, I took out my camera. I took only a few pictures this day. I also recorded our walking route from when we appeared downtown until we re-entered the metro after dinner.

Walking around downtown, we sweltered in the 90-something degree heat. We quickly headed to our intended destination, the Holocaust Museum, stumbling on the small USDA farmers market on the way.

The Holocaust Museum's lobby is a bleak brick train station, yet it has hopeful tiles with messages from children (ages 6-15) on the wall. This made me wonder at what age kids should learn about the Holocaust. By the way, the wall is also known as the Wall of Remembrance.

The exhibit on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was interesting and detailed. I learned that The Protocols was plagiarized largely from a French work that didn't mention Jews. I also learned that in the 2000s, despite being fiction, it's still being published as if it were true. And, of course, it's in many places on the internet.

The children's exhibit was clearly for kids. The diary entries of children from the Holocaust began as full-page entries and later were mere dirty fragments. The museum does a good age-appropriate job in this exhibit.

The special exhibit on the ghetto in Lodz (the second largest city in Poland) portrayed how the community managed itself: its bureaucracy, currency (yes, it has its own), its stamps, its hospitals, its schools, its cultural and social life, and even how it strictly rationed itself. The community chose who received the limited supplies it received, and how much. All of this was to try to make as normal a world for the children as possible, but the fundamental message I got from this exhibit was that scarcity makes life difficult no matter how much you try. Governing is even more difficult when no one knew what was going to happen next or where people forced into vehicles were going. Incidentally, the presentation space was good at separating the sounds in this exhibit from the sounds in the neighboring exhibit.

The extensive permanent exhibit, though crowded, is powerful. Something about the displays reminded me how recent this horrific event was, made it feel closer than it did before. I had a similar reaction when I toured Martin Luther King's Historic Site in Atlanta.

The first section in the permanent exhibit, on the rise of the Nazis before the war, discusses the science of race and how the Germans defined someone as a Jew by the number of Jewish grandparents. This reminded me of how black was defined during the days of slavery and reconstruction in the United States. This section of the exhibit shows how the Germans, besides prosecuting Jews (even trampling Torahs), prosecuted Jehovah's witnesses (none of whom recanted), Poles (who the Germans viewed as being racially worse, though they had trouble distinguishing them from Germans), and even Freemasons. There was a backlash against targeting certain groups; for instance, people protested killing handicapped kids.

I also learned that the Evian conference, an international conference in 1938 intended to convince countries to let in more (Jewish) refugees, was useless. The conference, combined with reading the display on the ship St. Louis, vividly illustrates that immigration policy is always relevant.

In the section that covered WWII, I learned a lot about the Warsaw ghetto. I learned about the Warsaw ghetto revolt and how the rebels were valiant to the end. I learned there were footbridges for Jews over the non-Jewish parts of ghettos. (Basically, if some parts of a neighborhood weren't Jewish but divided the Jewish parts from one another, rather than make the non-Jews move, the Nazi built bridges connecting the Jewish parts so the Jews wouldn't have to leave the segregated part of the ghetto.)

I'm amazed that the museum has so many pictures of the Warsaw ghetto, even pictures of the rebels. The museum also has a wall from the Warsaw ghetto.

About the Kovno ghetto, I learned that the popularly-elected leaders of the ghetto rebelled. That takes chutzpah--the Nazis knew who the leaders where because they coordinated with them on ghetto rules. In rebelling, the leaders knew they would be killed.

Halfway through the permanent exhibit, there's a room by the stairs without any information; it's simply meant for visitors to refresh themselves before they continue on.

The museum has physical artifacts: shoes, hair, and other belongings. It also has a photo-montage of arms showing tattooed numbers.

I (re-)learned that the Allies didn't bomb Auschwitz because they wanted to see first-hand the conditions there.

Also, the museum tells stories about how Bulgaria, Sweden, and Denmark protected Jews, and describes how Norway became cleansed.

There's a four-story tower of family pictures of residents from a town, Eishyshok, that the Nazis destroyed.

Most of the last floor of the permanent exhibit is devoted to protests, rebels, and individual and group actions of resistance. The nearly final room is about war crime trials. Not enough people were convicted.

The last room is video interviews with survivors.

Like all visitors to the museum, I was given an identity card with the biographical information of a real person who lived during the Holocaust. In my case, I was an Italian Jew who was a lawyer turned pianist (after he wasn't allowed to practice law). Eventually he was deported to Auschwitz and, there, committed suicide.

In better news, The Hall of Remembrance is a beautiful sanctuary.

We spent several hours in the museum. I'm glad I visited with someone who knows much history and could answer the questions I had that weren't answered by the displays.

By the way, I was surprised the museum said practically nothing about Israel.

After the museum, we were hungry. It was a bit early for dinner but we decided to go for it. After wandering a bit, we found a random Italian place downtown, Finemondo. For the somewhat shocking details, see the pictures.

In the evening, we had a pre-wedding gathering for the groom in O'Malley Irish pub, conveniently located in our hotel. It was nice to see long-lost college friends again. But, O'Malley didn't treat us well. The waitress wasn't competent. She didn't really ask whether we wanted anything. If she had, I'm sure we would've ordered so much more that our tab would've been at least double. Also, she wasn't good about cleaning off the table. Finally, to top off the experience, at the end of the night, at closing time the bartender simply said, "Get out."

We retired to a sitting area in a nearby hallway to continue our conversation.

No comments: