Friday, July 31, 2009

Tisha B'av at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Today we went to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. This was quite fitting as today is not only Tisha B'av, when we mourn for the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, but also the 18th yahrzeit (anniversary of death) of my father, Mayer, a holocaust survivor.
I don't usually "do" holocaust if I can avoid it. I know nobody enjoys it but ever since I've been old enough to equate those atrocities happening to people I love, I try not to see Holocaust themed movies, read books about the Holocaust, etc. But I really wanted to see the Holocaust Museum in Washington and it was so fitting to do so today.
I was really surprised at how crowded the museum was and what a wide variety of people seemed to be visiting. From young children to older adults and many different nationalities. There was a group of young adults wearing GYLC tags, which I googled once I got back to the hotel in order to learn that the "Global Young Leaders Conference (GYLC) is a unique leadership development program that brings together outstanding young people from around the world to build critical leadership skills in a global context." I find it amazing that all these people chose to spend a day (or some hours) learning about the Holocaust.
The museum is organized chronologically, from the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party through the creation of the state of Israel. It doesn't mince words when relating America's refusal to help the Jews during the Holocaust and also relays the military course of the war. There are audio recollections of Auschwitz survivors discussing life in the camp, stories of the uprisings and partisans, and the rightgeous who helped save Jews. Also remembered are the political dissidents, gypsies (or Roma as they apparently prefer to be called), and other groups targeted by the Nazis.
At the end of the permanent exhibition there is a registry of survivors. I found an aunt and uncle but not my father. Maor and I filled out the form for my father and two of my aunts and when we handed it in the staff member glanced at it and said, "Buchenwald. We have extensive records for people from Buchenwald." [My father was liberated from Buchenwald] When he was done helping someone else he searched for my father and found my father's records from Buchenwald which includes information about when he arrived, from where (Auschwitz), prisoner ID number, and more. He explained some of it since it's written in German. One of the pages is stamped "liberated by US army." There is also his DP registration record. Interestingly, his Buchenwald record and his DP record each have different birthdays, neither of which were the ones we celebrated. The museum staff member explained that it was common in the camps for people to make themselves older so they would be deemed old enough to work and to make themselves younger on the DP records because kids got better placements. So on the Buchenwald records his birthday is Nov 6, 1927 and on the DP records Oct 6, 1929. I always thought his birthday was Oct 6, 1928. Anyway, as you can imagine, it's pretty incredible to have copies of these documents and I can't wait to get to NY and Israel to show them to my cousin and aunt, respectively.
We left the museum and walked to the White House since this would be our only opportunity to get a glance and Maor really wanted to see it. We were standing not directly by the fence but across the street which meant we didn't have to move when the police cleared all the people away from the fence. Why? Because the Obamas came out to walk Bo, on the lawn. Maor says it was the whole family together but I could only clearly see the girls (both wearing red). Of course Arthur did not have his camera (and zoom lens) so we missed our chance to get a great picture to sell to People magazine for big bucks. Another opportunity lost.
In any case, it was definitely a full day and we are now waiting for the fast to end back in our hotel room. Tomorrow we take the train to NY.


Barbara said...


It's great that you were able to find your father. We tried to find Michael's mother listed somewhere, but no luck. She was on the very last children's train out of Germany, so perhaps they don't consider them as part of the holocaust. But her parents definitely were lost & we couldn't find them when we were there.

Not sure if you've ever heard of it, but we saw a documentary of the Kinder Transport called "Into the Arms of Strangers." We hoped to see pictures of Michael's mother, but no luck there. It's a very interesting film.

OK, miss you!