A child. Not an animal. A child.

Holocaust definition [https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/holocaust]:

1 : a sacrifice (see 1sacrifice 2) consumed by fire
2 : a thorough destruction involving extensive loss of life especially through fire . . .
3 a usually the Holocaust : the mass slaughter of European civilians and especially Jews by the Nazis during World War II . . .
b : a mass slaughter of people; especially: genocide . . .
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Three children. Not animals. Children.

I’d never been to the Holocaust Museum.  I’d learned a tiny bit about the Holocaust in history classes, I’d taught Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl to my 7th grade Language Arts class and Night by Elie Wiesel (Revised Edition) [Paperback(2006)] four years in a row while teaching 10th grade English, and I’d seen the movie DVD: Schindler’s List.

Friends. Not animals. Friends.

Every cursory experience I’ve ever had relating to the Nazi attempt to exterminate an entire population has left me in tears. I remember the first time I cried in front of my 10th graders, reading the part in Elie Wiesel’s Night where the prisoners are filed by and made to look at the latest hanging victims, one being an angelic-looking young boy flailing and gasping for breath as he dies excruciatingly slowly because his tiny body  . . .

 I cried every time I got to that passage, every year.
A family, or a class, perhaps. Not animals. People.

I just returned from the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D. C. and before I entered, I thought I’d be immune from the horror, immune from the outrage, immune from what I already knew to be the truth of that despicable series of events culminating in a country’s complicity in a madman’s scheme.

A beautiful woman. Not an animal. A beautiful woman.

But I was not immune, and because I am still able to cry at the brutal video footage of heaps of emaciated bodies dragged, tossed, bulldozed into pits, I am reassured. And I am reassured by the long line in front of the museum door and the crowds inside the museum on a Wednesday, and the awed hush of multi-colored humanity walking as if in a trance through three floors of displays, and the visceral reactions I saw on most faces through my tears.

Happy children. Not animals. Happy children.

But I cannot rest complacently in my reassurance, because this was not the only holocaust, and as I type this, racial slaughter continues. Hatred, fear, and insecurity continue across the globe. Megalomaniacs in positions of power continue to frighten me, because for every tear-filled eye in the museum today, there is a stone-faced denier who will believe a lie.

People. Not animals. Not criminals. People.

I left the museum today with the same questions that have plagued me for decades: Why have we not yet evolved as as species? And how is it that anyone can look at a child, a beautiful woman, a family, and decide those beings are anything less than human?

“Have you ever been punished for something you didn’t do?” asks a young boy in the “Daniel’s Story” exhibit of the museum. How could a child possibly understand the experience of a holocaust if I can’t even understand it?

Millions of people. Not animals. People.

I was struck by a fleeting moment of panic when I stepped into the large, overcrowded elevator in the museum after my friends and I made it through the security checkpoint at the entrance, which was much like a TSA checkpoint at the airport. Before the door closed, we were instructed by an official-sounding woman that we would be taken to the third floor of the museum, and then she stepped out and the doors closed.

Rail cars to extermination camps.

We believed her.

Millions boarded crammed rail cars with the understanding they’d be taken to work camps.

Didn’t they know?

Didn’t they know?

Dear God, didn’t they know?

The photos I took in the museum today were mostly of the people, and of inscriptions here and there like the one that read: “Where books are burned, in the end people will be burned.”

And I no longer feel reassured.

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Please consider a contribution to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum HERE.




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