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.