As I walked into the Holocaust Museum July 4th weekend there were a couple things on my mind. I thought about the recent murder of the security guard Stephen Tyrone Johns and disturbing images of death and concentration camps I saw as a child. Stephen and the victims of the Jewish Holocaust are victims of same hatred, closed mindedness and dark worldviews.
I was uneasy about this museum simply because I did not want to revisit the same images I saw in a book during my childhood. This uncomfortable feeling continued to lay heavy on my psyche as I walked into the museum’s giant atrium and sat on a bench to watch people. Most of the people were chatting or giggling. Children ran pass laughing and teasing one another. I continued to think that I did not want to see this place.
Once I entered the elevators to go to the main exhibit floor, my mood change. It could only be described as apprehension. This tension builds in the stomach as you sit still in the rollercoaster car waiting for the ride to begin. The anticipation of the extreme speeds and up and down motions of a very high and very scary rollercoaster is unnerving me. The elevator was a very large dull colored steel box with a television mounted high for all riders to see. The elevator doors closed and the box moved slowly upwards. The ride felt almost motionlessly. A voice began to speak over the intercom and the TV flickered on. After a brief prologue, the steel doors opened to a silent room of people. As I pondered my reluctant feelings and watched the people, I notice something very interesting. The obvious contrast of the individual demeanors and emotions I observed in the atrium and in the actual exhibit. The atrium was bright and lively and people talked, smiled and giggled. The only speaking heard was the film on the rise of Hitler and the shuffling of bodies from exhibit to exhibit. I felt an unshakable sadness come over me as I began this trek through this museum. I watch the film on the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party and I was dumbfound. How could a country of people allow their leaders to run amuck? A well known cliché states that hindsight is 20/20. The people of German were poor and disenfranchised and an evil man exploited their feelings hopeless. This is the same madness that fueled the countrymen of Rwanda to kill their fellow countrymen in an effort to rid their country of Tutsis, or religious leaders that condemn Islam or Buddhism by saying that Muslim and Buddhist doctrines have no validity, but I digress. I continued slowly walk around the exhibit studying different wall mounted information in dismay.
I took great notes of names of camps. I wrote down about Lt. Colonel Stevens and his film crew that documented these atrocities. I wrote about the Weimar Soldiers and the Treaty of Versailles. I also noted about Hitler’s genius marketing campaign and ability to speak, but all these notes do not describe the experience. I will not use them.
When I walked across the breezeway I looked down into the atrium and notice the teens chatting, moms chasing their toddlers, and old people lounging. They looked too relaxed and calm, too status quo. I thought that they did not see what I have seen.
I walked into an odor that seems to have hands to touch. It was a thick musky smell. I immediately felt as if I walked into a dense fog. The odor seemed to hug me and make me aware of its presence. This fog of odors seemed to trickle up and down my spine. It was the smell of thousands of shoes. I looked at the shoes of the victims of the holocaust and notice hast in my step. The smell did not linger as I walked into the section of portraits, but it did seem to add weight on me. I looked at the photos of beautiful families and continued my journey.
I walked slowly around the next level of the exhibit and I came up to a railcar. This cart was not as large as the railcars I have seen a train yards. The car was probably a third the size. I read the information and I learned that railcar held more than a hundred people. I could not imagine the feeling of being in a car that size with over 100 people. I can imagine the crowdedness, the inability to move or even breathe. Many people died in transport railcars. I continued my journey at a slightly faster pace.
The Holocaust Museum was painful and to some degree unbearable. I remember this feeling as I watched Amistad. The White sailors discovered there was not enough food for themselves and the men and women they stole from their homeland(slaves). They tied stones to a group of the men and women they stole from their homeland and drown them in the Atlantic. Men and women were stolen from their homes and murdered.
This museum exists because of peoples’ inability to accept differences. This museum serves as a reminder of the product of fear. Oppressive actions of Hitler, the Nazi party, White supremacist, or any person or group operate within the realm of fear. This demonic fear consumes all logic and reason with unfounded hatred.
I was able to look at myself and consider what could possibly make me fear and loathe a group of people like Hitler. I have never possessed that much fear, but when I consider my apprehension toward White people I do not know personally, I understand why I become uncomfortable. I am uncomfortable because for much of my young life, Black adults said that White people were not considered trust worthy. I was not raised around White people. I was raise in Black neighborhoods and I did not really socialize with Whites at school. I was blessed to see beyond that prejudice behavior, because I met and became best friends with Anthony Cler. Anthony is White and it is this relationship that dispelled all the prejudice crap I heard as a youngster. It is the brotherly love that he and I share that assures me that White skin has nothing to do with who he is and who I am. He helped break the cycle of prejudice in me. Now I do will not continue a legacy of ignorance to my children.