For my fifteenth birthday my mom took me and my best friend on a trip to Washington, DC to visit the Smithsonian and Holocaust Museums. Rather a morbid trip for a birthday, but I was so excited. During my school work I read something that peaked my interest about the Holocaust and World War II. I read every book I could find about those topics in our library. I started in the Children’s section where I found books on the different battles to the largest book I could find in the adult section, “The Winds of War” to my favorite book, “The Hiding Place.” I was curious because I couldn’t fathom why or how the Holocaust could be allowed to happen. Even all these years later and lots more reading and research under my belt I still have problems grasping the enormity of the whole thing.
We visited several war memorials to start off our day. The Korean War Memorial was first, then the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and then we visited the Lincoln Memorial. Then we went to the Smithsonian Institution, American History. Such a large place–with our limited time we were only able to see a few things. My favorite part was the display of First Ladies dresses. This made the president’s wives come alive for me. We visited the Natural History museum where we saw some dinosaur skeletons and the Hope Diamond from across the room. We didn’t want to wait to see it up close.
The Holocaust Museum was different from other museums. The tour was on three levels and it began at the top. You were given a passport of a Jew and you followed what happened to them throughout World War II as you descended. At the end you found out if your Jew survived the war, or if and how they died. We were there over three hours and it wasn’t enough to take it all in. At the end of the tour there was a wall engraved with names of people who helped Jews escape or hid them. It was an encouraging sight. My Jew survived because someone hid her until the end of the war.
The display that I remember the best was the display of shoes. Before the Jews were executed (at least the ones going into gas chambers) they were told that they were going to the shower. They had to remove every item of clothing and jewelry before going into the “shower.” This display was just a huge pile of shoes that was recovered after World War II inside of one of the death camps. It seemed so pointless. Those Germans didn’t want or need or have any use for the shoes. They were just mindlessly following orders. Those shoes made the Jews that lost their lives seem so real to me. There were little shoes and big shoes…fancy shoes and serviceable shoes…all there as a terrible reminder of what one group of people are capable of doing to another group.