It has been over 60 years since the Holocaust happened, but what took place all those years ago can still be felt today.
Today I went to the Holocaust Museum in D.C. When you enter the museum you are given a little book that tells the story of a man, woman or child. This person was a Holocaust victim, and you are to follow this person’s story as you go through the museum.
My roommate and I spent over four hours in the museum- and we could have spent many more,- but it was too emotionally draining.
The museum began by tracking the rise of the Third Reich and Hitler then moved on to tell how the Nazis began the systematic annihilation of millions of Jews, “mentally handicapped,” Roma, Communists etc.
The layout of the museum was very good. It presented all the information in a coherent fashion and it made sure to tell the story of not only the Jews (who are mainly associated with the Holocaust) but also the other groups that fell victim to this atrocity.
For me, the most saddening part of the museum was the presentation of 300 pairs of shoes. These shoes were worn by those in the concentration camp, but were discarded when they got to the camp. As you walked through this part of the museum the aroma of the shoes were overwhelming. All I could think about was how these people, who fell victim to such an awful moment in history, wore these shoes now lying on the floor of this museum.
At the end of the museum, they have a video of Holocaust survivors telling their stories. It was so sad. I could never imagine living with that for so many years. All (or nearly all) your family and most of the people you knew died. But you survived. That is a heavy burden to bear.
It was a crazy time in history- a time that often seems unreal. How could Hitler have gained so much power? And how did the international community allow this to happen?
By the end of WWII, 6 million Jews had been killed. That means 2 out of every three Jews in Europe were killed from 1939-1945. And that 6 million does not even take into account all the other category of people who fell victim to the Holocaust, such as those in the “T4 Operation” (mentally handicapped).
Those numbers are intense and seem unreal. To think that something so awful could have happened to so many people is unthinkable and unbelievable.
The saddest part about it is that we have not learned from this atrocity. Since the Holocaust, there have been three more genocides: Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. In all three instances, there were tell-tale signs that the ethnic tensions in the area were escalating enough to become a genocide. However, the international community did not act. They understood what was happening, and they knew the implications of what happened during WWII, but they did nothing. They sat back and let it happen. They only interfered when it was too late.
I am deeply saddened by this truth. We could have learned from the Holocaust in order to ensure that such a grave injustice never occurred again. We could have given a little dignity back to the 6+ million lives that were lost in those six years by preventing future atrocities, but we have not. Yes, we have given them some dignity back by condemning genocide, making it a crime, punishing the leaders in the Nuremberg Trials and by preserving their memory in museums such as this. But the best thing we could have done is to ensure that this would not happen again.
There is another genocide on the brink in South Sudan- that is separate from Darfur. We need to act fast in order to ensure they do not suffer a similar fate!