At long last I had the opportunity to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum today, September 11, 2013, the 12th Anniversary of the attack on the New York World Trade Center, September 11, 2001. The museum is in Washington, DC, and the best way to get there is to take the Metro to the Smithsonian station.
Before taking the elevator to the 4th Floor (you work your way down), I was asked to take an “Identification Card” that “…tells the story of a real person who lived during the Holocaust.” I drew Leon Franko, born to a large Sephardic-Jewish family from Yugoslavia Macedonia, near the Greek border. He and his wife perished in Auschwitz on April 1, 1944.
Judging from the somber facial expressions and occasional audible gasps of fellow visitors today, I’m certain their and my gut-wrenching reactions to the identification cards and exhibits are not unique.
The most difficult for me were the photos of the children and my despair whenever I think about the evil and those appalling horrors that took place in Germany and much of Europe less than a hundred years ago during the period 1933-45.
Following closely behind the photos of the children was the lack of response by the U.S. to what appeared to be a clear picture of the atrocities by the Nazis. Granted the U.S. was still in a state of economic emergency in 1933, but the case is made by the materials at the Museum that the U.S. turned a blind eye at best and at worst refused to raise the immigration quota to admit Jewish immigrants who wound up among the murdered.
Senators, Congressmen, the State Department and others argued that increasing immigration quotas would mean fewer jobs for Americans. A bill to at least allow the immigration of 20,000 children never reached a vote.
A product of Catholic education in Chicago that culminated in graduation from high school in 1957, I was told nothing about the Holocaust until two years later, 1959, when I read “Silent Is The Vistula,” a heartbreaking account of the Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw under the Nazis.
From a Museum brochure titled: “A Changed World – The Continuing Impact of the Holocaust,” the changes since World War II:
– Nations pledged to prevent and punish the crime of “genocide.”
– Criminal trials for crimes against humanity
– Expansion of international protection of human rights
– “Informed consent” as an ethical approach to medical experimentation
– Protections for refugees broadened
– Israel as the Jewish homeland
– Progress of reconciliation between Christians and Jews
I pray for continued progress and hope a visit to the Holocaust Museum is included in the itineraries of the tourists in plain sight in Washington every day. This awful memory must be shared and preserved in order that we do whatever we can to ensure the community of nations understands nothing remotely resembling the Holocaust will be tolerated.