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“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children—

Deuteronmy 4:9

From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.

Cloud Atlas

            During LVC orientation, they asked us what moment in time sparked our desire to fight for social justice. Most of the speakers pointed to a moment in their young adult lives, one poignant moment that clued them in to the injustices of the present and suddenly filled them with a desire to do something. Mine? Mine wasn’t so much a selected moment, but the beginnings of a snowball that started to roll downhill, one event leading to another and to another until I had experienced and heard of so many things that I couldn’t do anything BUT fight. And that moment was Facing History. Facing History was a program run by my middle school for the entire 8th grade class, a two week long seminar introducing us to moments in history where people were unlawfully and unjustly persecuted. Given the predominately jewish population of my school, we focused mostly on the Holocaust. And it was in those moments, when reading The Giver or watching Swing Kids or going to the DC Holocaust Memorial Museum that I began, as a 13 year old, to understand the injustices of this world. I didn’t realize it at the time; it wasn’t a “Eureka!” moment like those named by the LVC staff. Instead, it was the moment I subconsciously became aware, and from there the snowball began tumbling down the mountainside.

            This was confirmed when, today, I visited the DC Holocaust Museum again, after 9 years. Outside the building, there’s a sign that reads “THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU SAW” in large print, with smaller print “The next time you witness hatred” “The next time you see injustice” and “The next time you hear about genocide”. It’s exactly what LVC wants from us, a wider and conscious understanding of injustice and hatred in our daily lives and how we can work to stop and prevent it, both within ourselves and our society. A large and daunting task, indeed, not just to confront our society but to confront and critically examine our own actions/thoughts/deeds. But it’s necessary.

Some of the strongest memories I have from my time abroad are those concerning stories and places of the Holocaust. One, because WWII especially fascinates me, and two, because the stories are too unbelievable and horrifying to forget. You never forget the moment you step through that wrought-iron gate warped into the infamous and ironic words, conscious of the millions of souls who also stepped beyond the threshold and immediately—or slowly—met their deaths. You never forget the moment you stepped into an empty field and your guide tells you a town was once here before the Nazis erased it and the people from history. You never forget the moment when a Holocaust survivor tells you with anger lingering in her soul that the Red Cross knew what was happening when they inspected the ghetto, but chose to leave the residents to die instead of helping them. You will never, ever forget.

            But it’s not just memories that remain. There’s an intense emotional connection to that history, feelings that overwhelm you sometimes. You feel tied to the lives that were lost, as if your soul is in communication with the millions merciless murdered. Even if you didn’t know them, even if your family has no connection to the events, even if you’re not in any of the persecuted categories: you’re still eternally tangled in the web of lives taken too early, too harshly, too inhumanely.

            How do you cope with that? That’s a serious question I’m offering to the world right now. Because I naively thought that once I left the sorrow and hurt would disappear. I knew I would remember the event itself for the rest of my life as an incredibly important and transformative journey, and that the immediate after effects would be difficult to manage. It’s been over a year; I thought it would have become a distant memory, a ghost in my subconscious that occasionally pulled at my heartstrings slightly but would fade more and more with time. That was stupid of me to think, I suppose.

            When I entered the museum today, I took an identification card. In the small booklet, it held the name of a Holocaust victim, their date of birth, a picture, and their home country. It told a little story about their life before the Holocaust, their journey during the genocide, and what happened to them. My girl was from Prague and survived Terezin (the Czech ghetto) and Auschwitz and the war. Already, I had hit a home run with creepy coincidences (having visited all of those place when I was abroad), and rapidly realized that I was not emotionally ready to do this. All those feelings I had felt months and months ago when I went through all the places of Nazi horrors were suddenly bubbling up to the lump in my throat as I stepped into the elevator. And they didn’t go away. While I was critically examining the differences between this exhibit and the exhibit in Auschwitz, there were moments that things unexpectedly tugged ferociously at my heart in a way I hadn’t experienced since my time in Poland. Like the moment I stepped out of the elevator and immediately saw images of prisoners facing liberation, their eyes empty and faces merely skin drawn over bone. Or the moment I realized my sister would have been killed during the regime had we lived in Germany. Or the moment I saw Helga Weissová-Hošková’s artwork hanging on the wall, the survivor who came to speak at our school abroad. It was a sudden overwhelming sadness, almost choking me in the middle of this museum and I had no idea why the emotions were so unbearably strong. 9 years ago I was sad, of course, wandering through the museum. But not in the same way I was today.

            It took me time to understand why this stung as much as it did. And it’s a layered, complicated reason that even I don’t fully understand. But I know two things: One, the pain comes from a place of deep human connectivity that was activated when I began to understand the true devastation and cruelty the victims were subjected to by physically inhabiting the same spaces they did. Two, the pain is also heartbreak for the present, because we continually subject others to similar torment, abuse, fear, and isolation through racial and gender and economic inequality.

            You see, one of the most horrifying things I saw today wasn’t the videos of mass graves or people as thin as corpses or the experiments or the propaganda…no, it was a line near the beginning of the exhibit that described the segregation techniques for the Jews as “taking inspiration from American racial segregation tactics”. Yes, world, they segregated the Jews just as we segregated people of color. And what’s scary is that we can sit here and acknowledge how horrible and bad the Holocaust was at all stages, but still can’t understand the continued horrors of institutionalized racism, of economic disparity, of heterosexism, of domestic and sexual violence. We’ve forced Native Americans on death marches, taken away their property and their humanity, and shoved them into reservations, and still have yet to apologize. We continue to subject other people of color to stereotypes, police brutality, inequity in jobs and schools, and generally dismiss their needs in favor of the “greater” race. Those of non-traditional gender or sexual orientation are bullied, beaten, isolated, and restricted from occupational opportunity.

            Believe it or not, we nearly mirror the beginnings of the Extermination. While we haven’t reached the stage of racial purification, we are not much different from the early Nazi party in the way we treat those who are different. And that is a terrifying thing to realize.

            I’m sorry this doesn’t end on a positive note, and I wish it did. However, the Holocaust didn’t end positively; many still died after liberation from overeating or disease, and even if they survived prejudice and racism still plagued the nations. After suffering so much, they had nowhere to go. And right now, our nation isn’t in a happy note. But I hope we can change. I hope we can understand and better ourselves, and make the ending at least a better ending than it is now.

            It’s a small hope, but, as Elie Weisel once wrote, “I believe in man in spite of man.” And if he can maintain that belief, then I must as well.  




if you want to understand the psyche of our generation take a good look at the stories we tell ourselves about the future

because it isn’t flying cars or robot dogs, it’s faceless government surveillance and worldwide pandemics and militarized police brutality and the last dregs of humanity struggling to survive

our generation isn’t self-centered, or lazy, or whatever else they wanna say about us. we are young, and we are here, and we are deeply, deeply afraid.

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