Walking In Your Footsteps

Last week, Wil and I went to The White House to attend a private reception for people who helped Americans in signing up for the Affordable Care Act. It was really neat getting to meet people who had done everything from talking about it on social media (which Wil did) to people who helped fix the website when it did a massive crash after so many people tried to sign up at once.  I was so stinkin’ nervous as we were leaving our hotel to go there that my knees were actually shaking. It ended up being a lot of fun and I totally shook Barack Obama’s hand. The whole evening was an experience I will never forget.

The following day, Wil and I decided to set out for a sightseeing/tourist adventure. With a map in hand (and not the ideal shoes on my feet) we walked our way around the city. We saw several monuments, walked through gorgeous parks, and decided to choose one museum to go through since we only had the one day to do this. We chose the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The tour started by getting an “Identification Card” which looks like a passport booklet. There’s two stacks, one for women, one for men. Inside the booklet is a photo and information about a person who had lived and/or died during this horrific time in history. They give you these cards, with real names and photos of these victims,  so it personalizes the experience and so you understand this isn’t about just a bunch of nameless faces. I got Zelda Piekarska, a young Jewish girl from Poland. The Germans took over her town, took everything from them, and moved her and her family into a tiny space with other families. She was separated from her family shortly after and worked in labor camps in unbelievably horrible conditions for over 2 years before being liberated by the Soviet Army, eventually emigrating to America in 1949.

We hadn’t even gone through the doors where we would see artifacts, read stories, watch video, and see photos of the gruesome torture thousands of people were put through for no reason, and I was already choking back tears. I had a surprising sense of relief in knowing the girl on the identification card I chose had actually made it out of there alive. We had been there all of 5 minutes and I was personally invested.

Wil and I worked our way through the museum in silence (as pretty much everyone in the whole building did) seeing everything from a real Nazi uniform worn by a soldier to hundreds of real leather shoes worn by victims who were asked to undress, shower, then join 1000 other people in a room before carbon monoxide was pumped in, killing them all. There were large shoes for men, smaller shoes with heels that women wore, and very small ones that had obviously been worn by children.

I won’t share anymore of the story since we all learned about this in history class, and I know there’s been books and movies made over the years that many of us have read and seen. But walking through the Holocaust Memorial Museum is something I will never, ever forget. When the tour was over, Wil and I walked out of there in silence, holding hands a little tighter than usual, as we walked back out into the city.

We made our way down to the Lincoln Memorial and stood on the steps where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech about having a dream that someday there would be equal rights for everyone, regardless of the color of their skin. This speech happened less than 20 years after thousands of Jewish people were murdered and tortured in a country just an ocean away. We went inside the building and watched video of his speech from that day in 1963, where people had held up picket signs, some for and some against the equal rights this man was talking about on those steps. Such an incredible difference from the people who had all of their rights and their lives taken from them without a choice not so long ago.

It’s pretty incredible to look back on history and see how far we’ve come. The sacrifices and triumphs we benefit from now make me so grateful to be living in this day and age. We still have a ways to go, but I’m glad we keep moving  forward in taking steps toward an even better future for generations to come.



20 thoughts on “Walking In Your Footsteps

  1. The Holocaust museum in Washington D.C. and the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles are the sites for two of the most powerful emotional reactions I have had.

  2. I think one day I want to go to that museum. I went to an exhibit about the titanic that did the same thing with the identification cards. It makes it much more real.

  3. I very much enjoyed your twitter posts while you were at the White House. This blog post touched me. My Daughter in Law’s Mother was born in the camps. Thank you for sharing your day. 🙂

  4. Having visited Our nation’s Capitol a couple times, I have become convinced that there is no such thing as “the right shoes” for Washington D.C.

  5. When I saw your pics on Twitter of getting to meet the president I was a little jelly if you know what I mean. Very cool that you got to meet him.

    But as for the rest of the day… I’ve been to the Holocaust Memorial Museum. I don’t recall who I ‘got’ on my card, but I remember investing in him (and his photo even if not his name). And I remember the shoes. For me, the shoes did something inside me. And the train car.

    I didn’t know you went there when you were tweeting pictures of DC. You kept to the humor there, and I understand why. Or that you went to the Lincoln Memorial. Not that I’ve gone super-often but I’ve always been fond of the Lincoln Memorial, whether it’s the times I went to see the statue of him sitting or the time during a Sakura Matsuri when I watched meditative arching on a stage set up in front of the steps.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing this. It is powerful. And it reminded me of an experience that I’ve had also before.

  6. In grade 10 my class had an opportunity to go to the Holocaust Museum in DC. We did something like 25 extra hours of study about it, and there ended up being about 20 or so of us that went. I think we were only one of maybe 3 schools in Calgary that had the opportunity, and it was a very moving experience. Like you said, I had never heard my 20 classmates ever that quiet. It was just that incredible of an experience, and I am so grateful to the teachers that put it together for us.

  7. Have you read “The Freedom Writer’s Diary”?
    That’s all I could think about while reading to your post. I Highly recommend it, it’s an amazing true story told by the people who lived It. One of my life heroes, Erin Gruwell, was the responsible for the project. I hope I can be half the woman she is one day.

  8. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX …..less than 20 years after thousands…. of You should have said millions, not thousands. You can ask Wil about me making him an honorary Jew many years ago if he still remembers. A fanrastic post Anne and I appreciate it.

  9. I constantly argue that the world today is not so bad as we are led to believe. Only a generation ago, we thought segregation was okay in this country. Now, we’re fighting so many more battles to bring equal rights to all. We no longer put child abuse behind closed doors and call it “family business.” We don’t (generally) require women to marry their rapists. Sure, there are occasional horrific events in our lives, but there always have been and sadly always will be. But they are the aberration. The outliers of society as a whole. We are getting better, every day. I truly believe that, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. It. Gets. Better.

  10. That is the museum I would love to go to, if ever there chance arises. Just reading your prat brings tears to my eyes. I could never imagine living through something so horrific. On a lighter note, I would totally be giddy if I was ever face to face with the president. I would probably do something highly embarrassing!

  11. 15 years ago when I went the docents were all survivors themselves. I’m sure that’s changed because in order to be a survivor, you have to be AT least 75, but it made the whole experience even more real.

  12. When I was in my early teens (1998-2000ish, I think), my dad and I went to D.C. for a day and hit the Air & Space museum and the Holocaust museum. I’m pretty sure I still have my “Identification Card” from that day. Your visit makes me what to look for it and see if I had a survivor or not. My mother is a WWII/Holocaust buff, so I was raised understanding more about what happened than I was taught in school. I’d love to go again, to see how I react as an adult.

  13. For me it was standing in the train car, I spent 4 hours in that museum and cried every last minute of it. It is one of the most powerful experience you can imagine.

  14. I had a very similar experience, only at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. I was fortunate enough to go to Japan in College and made a point of going to the Museum. It was similarly quiet and had artifacts that were a testament to the pain and suffering that happened so many years ago. I think it’s important for people to visit these kinds of museums. If I’m ever in DC, I will make sure to go to the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

  15. The pile of shoes had a big impact on me too–reminded me of the great passage in “Stand By Me” (the story) where the boys see Ray Brower’s shoes and really feel for the first time the impact of his death.

  16. Hi Anne,

    I actually didn’t know that there is a Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC. Last time I have been in DC, I only managed to have a brief look at the Smithsonian.

    I had very similar feelings when I visited the Dachau Concentration Camp in Bavaria. It was shocking to be at such a horrible place and see the barracks with my own eyes. I also walk into a gas chamber, which was apparently never used. I remember that this was the very first time in my life when I just couldn’t bear it anymore. It was just too much for me (I was 17 years old by the time).

    I feel very ashamed that my country (I’m German) did this to other people! I still don’t understand all the hate for Jewish people and never will. Let’s hope that something like this will never happen again.

    It’s important to have such memorials all over the world, that we will never forget how cruel people can be to each other.

    Kind regards from Bavaria,

  17. Thank you for a wonderful account of your visit to Washington. I was moved to tears reading about your experience at the Holocaust museum.

  18. Hello, Anne:

    First time reader; please permit me to say how much your post has resonated with me. You write superbly and your visit to Washington sounds like it was emotionally stirring on a number of levels. I will very much look forward to reading your posts in the future.

    All best wishes,

    Jay Pochapin

  19. My aunt’s father was a survivor. When I first met him, I was told never to ask about the numbers on his arm, or ask him any questions about growing up. After dinner that night I was sitting with him and he started talking about his brother. I just listened, silent. He told me about how his brother was always a bit smaller and weaker, more into books than sports. He told me about the last time he saw his brother when they left a train car and were divided into separate groups. The whole time he was talking he was absently rubbing a spot on his arm where there were numbers tattooed in faded ink. Knowing the rules, I didn’t ask, but he told me anyway. He looked down, held up his arm and said that the numbers were a reminder that not all people can be trusted or are kind to one another. Then he took my hand, and said, “You are the future, don’t let it happen again.”

    17 years later, I am trying to live up to that.

    1. They have one of those train cars at the museum. I stood in it, knowing they packed at least 100 people at a time in that small space. Such a horrible thing for anyone to go through. Thank you for sharing his story.

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