Day 2 - The Suffering of Those We Never Knew

Posted by Whit Barringer , Thursday, May 29, 2008 11:38 PM

Such a long long day.

We were slow to get around. I was still sore from the drive and my body was reluctant to respond. I totally missed breakfast in the hotel, and the half muffin that Jeremy and Rachel brought back for me had a hair in it. Blegh.

We asked for directions to the metro. The woman at the front desk was very hesitant to give them, insisting instead on driving us. After hemming and hawing, we finally got directions. When we followed them, we got lost. We ended up going back to the hotel and asking another guy for directions, but we could barely understand him. What we could make out matched what the other woman had said, so we tried the same way. We went over a ridge into a park which we had originally thought was a dead end. It turned out to be the right way.

We walked to the Metro station and bought our seven-day pass. Under my direction, we took the wrong metro train and had to get back on another with even more stops. Then Jeremy and Rachel got off at one stop to "use the bathroom." An hour later of Ash and I sitting in the metro waiting for them, we went up to the street and called, only to find out that Jeremy and Rachel had gone to the Air and Space museum since they couldn't find us.

We finally got ourselves together and went to the most anticipated of our stops in the Smithsonian "district" - the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The first thing that struck me was how open the museum was. One huge wall had only a verse (from Isiah, I think), which said, "You are my witnesses." They had multiple exhibits, and we had to take a ticket with a time to be able to go to the Permanent Exhibition. Our time was 3:30, so we decided to go to the kosher cafeteria to get lunch. When we got out, we had enough time to go to the 1936 Nazi Olympics exhibit.

For those who don't know much about it, it was the only Olympic contest held in Nazi Germany (yes, there was even one). They had pictures of different men and women who had won in the Olympics but were killed during the Holocaust. An American might be more familiar with it as the Olympics where Jesse Owens broke a running record, then came home and wasn't allowed to run in a race because he was black.

We went to the museum shop for a little bit and looked around before our 3:30 time. Then we were ushered into elevators. Before we got in, we were supposed to take a card with a person's name on it. I don't know if it was the same way with everyone's, but the person on Ash's and my cards all survived.

The elevator was cold gray metal and looked like the outside of a boxcar. When we got out, the first thing we saw was a video of the liberation of one of the camps and a large photo of charred black bodies. As we kept walking, there were concentration camp uniforms mounted on a rounded wall built especially for it. I looked over the railing and saw uniforms down below as well. It reminded me of a well of souls.

There were two videos to watch as we wound our way through the museum - one on the rise of Hitler, and the other on antisemitism. We saw a car used to haul things, including bodies, a boxcar used to carry men, women, and children to their deaths in extermination camps, and a model of the gas chambers and crematoriums. They had a hospital bed which was used in Action T4. They even had beds from Auschwitz, where men and women would have had to sleep six to a bed. Three boys from a middle school slapped their hands on it, and one proclaimed, "I could have slept on here!" People died on those beds, and all that boy could think was to make a loud challenge to anyone who once slept there.

They had mini-videos all around the museum. Some were on mobile death squads. Another video was on Nazi medical experiments. Others were about those who were persecuted, like the Sinti and Roma (Gypsies) and the Jews. They didn't have much on political prisoners, and even less on homosexuals, but they did identify major groups that were persecuted.

One wall showed Polish men who had been photographed minutes before they were shot. The Polish, as a nationality, got the brunt of Nazi wrath. Millions of Polish people died. In the pictures, almost all were exclusively priests and teachers. They all looked tired and uncertain.

The museum tried its best to evoke emotion, and it did from me. Seeing the shoes, which made of leather, were chosen to survive over things made of flesh. There was a wall with pictures of forearms with the Nazi serial number tattoo. There were also pictures of mounds of hair.

There was one hall that had pictures of Jewish men and women that had been collected over the years. The pictures extended several stories. All of these people were human, and they were all slaughtered.

The museum goes into the creation of the state of Israel, but doesn't go so far as to validate either side of the conflict. They had a video at the end that was long, but showed men and women who had been liberated and their stories. When we left, I felt heavy.

We next went and visited the Washington Monument, the World War II memorial (complete with fountains that weren't there the last time I came), the reflecting pool, Mr. Abe Lincoln, and the Vietnam War Memorial.

On Lincoln: I thought it was very interesting that the inscription above his head (which I have a picture of) refers to the memorial as a "temple." I'll share my thoughts on that later on.

We walked what seemed like over a mile to the nearest metro, and took it to Union Station where we ate in a restaurant called - get this - "America." I had a burger, which was pretty good. They had light-up outlines of Texas and Louisiana on the walls, which we thought was pretty funny (apparently that's where all American food comes from - in fact, most of the food on the menu was prefaced with "Na'wlins" or "Texas"). We finally left (we limped, really) and went back to the Metro station. We were almost accosted by a crazy person, and we were accosted by a drunk guy, so we couldn't get back to the hotel fast enough. When we came in around 11:45, we collapsed and fell asleep not long after our heads hit our pillows.

I'll post my observations later.

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