The sounds of footsteps echoing along the narrow hallways at The Holocaust Museum in D.C is a reminder of the horrors that befell the Jewish community living in Europe in 1933.
Stories of the victims are held everywhere between adjoining rooms to reveal the stories that are forgotten about in the aftermath of Auschwitz, the most famous concentration camp. In one story Gerda Weissmann, a 19-year-old girl living in Poland was on her way to school when her father stopped her and told her to wear her ski boots although it was the middle of Summer. That was the last time she saw her father. Weissmann did not understand until later that day why her father had told her to wear her ski boots until she was taken abruptly from school to a concentration camp named Dulag. Five years later, Weissmann began the Death March along with 4000 other women who died mostly due to inclement weather and starvation. The boots her father told her to wear saved her when she was being relocated during the Soviet Army invasion in January 1945. While other women were getting frost bite, Gerda had her snow boots; and in May of that same year, Weissmann was among 120 of the remaining women to survive the Death March and be liberated by the United States Army.
Her story and many others are televised throughout the museum repeating every half hour. The Director of Communications at The Holocaust Museum, Andy Hillinger, had a somber opinion of the museum declaring that none of the exhibits were inspirational, but rather a dark chapter of history. “The Permanent Exhibition looks at one of the darkest chapters of human history and asks us to remember it and understand why the Holocaust happened and what it says today when we face hatred, anti-Semitism and genocide.” The impact the Holocaust had on the world was immense and while the museum itself is known, there is something to be said for the emotional influence it has on those who enter the halls. The deafening silence reverberating off the walls and the sounds of footsteps echoing past the re-created gas chambers provides the ultimate experience for those who are trying to understand the full impact the Holocaust had on the world.
Walking into one small room, there is an old milk can in the middle of the room with writing on the sides of it. The sign on the side read Ringleblum Milk Can and it expressed the victims desire to be remembered. “It is one of the few artifacts in the exhibition that shows how the victims, knowing they were going to perish, attempted to document their lives and tell future generations what was happening in their own words,” said Hillinger.
Of the 11 million people murdered during the Nazi movement, 1.1 million were children; many of whom are commemorated in one of the spacious rooms at the museum. Beside the pictures, a short biography rests as their last mark in the world. “The museum wants people to consider how the Holocaust was allowed to happen. It was not inevitable,” said Hillinger. “It was the result of decisions made, and not made by individuals, institutions and governments in Europe and around the world.”
Hillinger’s words make more and more sense with each exhibit, and after walking down a long hallway, at the end there is a pit where the only remnants of the children lies. Their shoes, torn and tattered sit on the floor, the only things that survived the fires in the Concentration Camps that were used to dispose of the bodies.
A thump lands on the floor near the exhibit and many people turn around to look. It is the first sound that has been louder than the echoing footsteps in the hallowed halls. A woman has collapsed from the overwhelming grief in the exhibit, the children’s faces on the walls were too much and she lies unconscious on the floor. EMS is rushing in to revive the woman and take her to the emergency room, but it is too late for the bystanders to forget the impact this woman collapsing on the floor has left them with. A nearby viewer leaned in to her neighbor and in one quick breath said “I will remember my experience here forever.”