As I was walking through the museum (trying to avoid the gaggles of junior highers on year-end class trips), I began to notice that none of the horrors I was "witnessing" were affecting me much. I read the descriptions and viewed pictures of SS raids, Kristallnacht, U.S. and European negligence, and even the deaths of thousands upon thousands of innocent children with relative calm. It was all intellectual assent to history I already knew.
That's when I arrived at the wall memorializing rescuers. There were lists of names and short vignettes recounting various individuals whose efforts to rescue people from the Nazis were extraordinary. There was one Orthodox bishop who was asked to provide a list of all Jews in his city. Rather than doing so, he wrote his own name on a piece of paper and gave that to the Nazis.
The stories of rescue make me realize there were people in need of rescue. It's the rescuers who make the horrors real. Bishops, nuns, newlyweds, farmers...all willing to sacrifice their own security to help the helpless. These are the stories and names that make me break down, that bring tears to my eyes, that make me want to sit and sob for the millions of senseless deaths throughout human history.
It's the same thing with the story of Christ's crucifixion. I listen to all the horrors that Christ went through to rescue us, but it isn't until I hear about the resurrection that it really hits me that Christ was dead. He was dead and it was my fault. That's when the tears flow. Even explaining it to Laura got me choked up. I love a good savior story.
At the end of the permanent exhibition, there is a video of testimonies from survivors they play continuously. One man recounts a tale of happening upon one of his fellow inmates at Birkenau praying. He was outraged. He asked his friend what he could possibly be praising God for in the living hell of the concentration camp. His friend's response was, "I am praising God that I am not like our murderers."
I couldn't handle anymore after that. Not with other people around. I went to the book store.
The USHMM has created a sacred space at the end of the permanent exhibition. It's quiet and beautiful. There are candles to light and several appropriate Old Testament verses inscribed on the walls. Wouldn't it be something if they also created a wailing wall? I wonder how many (or how few) people would avail themselves of that space.