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Visiting the Holocaust Museum

On Thursday October 8. 2015, the 11th grade visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. with their teachers Ms. Palenzatis, Mr. Sarpe, and Ms. Meuschke. The exhibit chronologically showcased the persecution and subsequent genocide of the Jewish people in Nazi- Germany from 1933 to the liberation of the concentration camps in 1945. 

Slanderous schoolbooks and derogatory boycott signs illustrated to the students the horrendous societal antisemitism. Deeper into the exhibit the students were also confronted with the malign living conditions in the ghettos and the unspeakably gruesome systematical enslavement and genocide of the Jews. Furthermore, entering a small windowless train car, one could feel the hopelessness and fright of the confined victims. A ginormous pile of shoes, pictures of malnourished prisoners and detailed descriptions of medical experiments presented the Holocaust in a chillingly palpable way.

We often learn about tragedies through mere statistics. Sadly, this increases the risk of us forgetting the humanity of the murdered. The Holocaust Museum skillfully evaded this problem, by giving every visitor a short biography of one victim. These biographies helped the students see the over 6 Million exterminated Jews as complex real people.

After the exhibition, the students had the extraordinary opportunity to attend a lecture of the holocaust survivor Julie Keefer. As a small child, Keefer survived the Ukrainian holocaust as the only member of her family. She told us about horrific and unspeakably brutal  practices by the SS soldiers that she witnessed as a little child.

However, she also portrayed the resilience, determination and courage of the persecuted; for example, her grandfather escaped a concentration camp twice and managed to hide her entire family in a self-dug bunker in the forest. Keefer herself also emphasized civil courage, and attributed her survival to the bravery of a polish farmer and a Ukrainian maid. She finished her lecture describing her long and frustrating search for the burial sites of her family members. 

Julie Keefer inspired me in many ways. Despite wanting to suppress her gruesome past, she talked about it in order to fight against holocaust-deniers. She also spoke out against discrimination and exclusion and emphasized their dehumanizing consequences. 

Exiting the museum, one is confronted with a quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me."

This quote meticulously shows the responsibility we all hold to actively think about the Holocaust. 70 years ago, people in Europe watched their neighbors and friends suddenly disappear. 40 years ago 25% of the Cambodian population was murdered and 20 years ago one million people were killed in Ruanda in just 4 months.

As Germans we have the responsibility to remember the crimes of the National Socialist Regime and to do everything to prevent a further genocide. Due to that fact, I would recommend that all readers of this article visit the Holocaust Museum. I am convinced, that everyone will remember it for good.

Helena R., Grade 12

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