were sent to slave labor.
Our tour guide told us that those who were sent to slave labor were allowed 200 calories a day.
The photograph above is in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. I took it off their website. The album is the only surviving visual evidence of the process of mass murder at Auschwitz-Birkenau. It is a unique document and was donated to Yad Vashem by Lilly Jacob-Zelmanovic Meier.
When I was a teenager one of my cousins (a South Sider) came to stay with us for what was supposed to be a couple of months. It turned out to be over a year and great for me, because as you know I was the only girl in my family and had my own room and it got a little lonely. So she and I talked into the night that year and it was very nice on all kinds of levels.
My cousin suffered from migraines and when she did, she mostly slept. One day I asked her what she thought caused them and she said she didn't know, but they started the day she heard about the Holocaust. I was fourteen and I hadn't even read Night by Elie Wiesel, or heard any first hand Holocaust stories, which was ironic since my parents had at least a handful of survivor friends.
All four of my grandparents had come to America in the early thirties, escaping Hitler's reign of terror.
Or I wouldn't be here.
I always felt a little guilty for not pouring over the books about the Holocaust. I read NOTHING about it in my social studies primers in grade school the fifties and early sixties. And I'm still a little light in this department. But I go to the museums if I'm in a city with a memorial museum and suck up as much as I can.
L.A. is good, Washington's better. The one in Jerusalem is the best.
So I was in Israel a couple of weeks ago, and since Yad Vashem is considered the world’s largest repository of information on the Holocaust, of course I had to go. I had been there ten years ago, but new founders have reinvented it, turned into performance art, a collection of photos in motion, sculpture, visuals and sounds, a sophisticated vehicle that breathes life into the victims, the perpetrators, and the bystanders of that awful period in time.
I've had it in mind to go to there since my youngest son, a particularly sensitive young fellow said to me after I booked the flight to Israel, "You should definitely go to Yad Vashem, Mom. It's very cool."
I rely on my kids to direct me in life, especially to things that are cool. For example, Empath Daught tells me what to wear (sends me home with sweaters), the Stooge tells me what movies I'll be able to stomach.
If you haven't been to any of the Holocaust museums then you're missing out. These memorials are much more than store houses of historical facts, artifacts, newsreels, etc. Their entire raison d'etre is to put you face to face with so much truth that you have to be emotional.
If you suffer from depression and know you can't handle too much reality then forget about this particular reality field trip. I tell MANY of my patients not to read or watch the news. Stay in LaLaLand and don't go to the Holocaust museums. But you HAVE to tell others to go in your stead. It's your responsibility.
I went with FD, his mom, sister, and brother-in-law, a few days after my niece's wedding. You last met them in a post I wrote about how saying incantations can help you find lost objects (I AM a social scientist, I REALLY am). We sang show tunes at Borders that Saturday night. It was unforgetable.
Anyway, bro-in-law Michael immediately sized up that we needed a guide for this exhibition. We were lucky to get Devorah Gold, perfect. Her grandfather made sure that her father escaped the Nazi's. He sent him away. I think she said that her father met her mother and married her in a DP (displaced persons) camp.
Devorah delivered every powerful line of her script with careful precision. It was like psycho-surgery. Hypnosis. I felt right at home.
FD was upset by the way the museum worked emotions. The museum is set up to make you feel the experiences of those who perished, and those of the few who survived. My guy found it all too emotionally manipulative. After the tour he wandered off for about an hour to see the art and other exhibits. He totally tranced out, didn't even answer his phone. I was a little worried about him.
But I feel that this type of emotional upset is good for people. It connects us with reality and we have to know this reality. It's good to go through this. It's nothing, frankly, compared to the horror that that generation suffered.
It's a fact of life that the world is replete with horrific acts of mankind. Rape, torture, and murder are universal. Violence sells newspapers; it is the stuff of NPR. I have to wonder if there's something wrong with a society that is so captivated by horror. We're literally entertained by horror films and desensitized to violence.
Some of us even LIKE the Holocaust museums. Even though 6-10 million people died in that genocidal world war they remember.
And to this day there are people who deny that it ever happened. Not the war, the death.
We listen to fireworks on the 4th of July, barely connecting them to the rockets red blare, but at least it's an effort to connect to death and destruction. Annual memory pitches that honor Good Wars include Memorial Day and Veterans Day. We LIKE seeing photographs in newspapers and magazines of men (mostly men) in uniforms wearing medals; men who fought for freedom.
Yet, most of us manage to avoid the pictorial side of the Holocaust. The emaciated bodies of starved concentration camp survivors, the piles of dead in mass graves, the death marches to gas chambers, the empty eyes of children. .. just not attractive. A downer.
I have a well-heeled, wonderful friend who set up a social service agency for rape victims. She had problems getting funding. "I could get the money to stage a week's worth of performances of Madame (pronounced Ma-da-meh) Butterfly, but get funding for rape victims? Ha!"
So most folks don't volunteer to see photos of emaciated, dying people, or medical experiments that turn the stomach either.
But it is VERY cool going to museums in Israel these days, technologically speaking, seriously. Yad Vashem is virtually new, and at Masada, too, there's a new museum, complete with a "smart" audio tour. No longer do you have to hit a button on the remote control to hear narrative . The remote control knows where you are in the museum. You go into a room and you hear about what it is you're supposed to hear about what you're looking at, perhaps ancient coins or pottery inside the display case. It is very cool.
And at Yad VaShem, if you use a guide like Devorah Gold, you get a head set and hear her speaking loud and clear, explaining what it is that you're seeing, assuming you haven't drifted too far away from your group. The head-set audio tour is great for the predominantly aging populace that visits the museum.
Ten years ago, before the remodeling of Yad Vashem, I saw hundreds of pairs of shoes behind a vertical glass display case, the shoes of the victims of the Holocaust. Now the shoes are in a display under a floor covering of thick glass. We're encouraged to walk on the display, to walk on the shoes.
Go ahead, walk on it, walk on those shoes, says our guide. No one does.
I do. She's really saying,Walk in those shoes.
The museum is like that, very experiential. Do you want to know what the German soldiers were thinking? How could they kill every Jewish child under the age of 10, for example (a 1942 proclamation, Every Jewish Child Under the Age of Ten Must Die) .
Open the door to a wooden box on a wall and read a soldier's explanation to his family.
One officer, Karl Kretshmer says (I'm paraphrasing): It is a weakness not to be able to stand the sight of dead people. The way to overcome this weakness is to kill more often. You get used to it.
I'm told there's a movie we should see, The Wave, about a brilliant teacher who teaches children how to be murderers, willing executioners.
When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, soldiers were ordered to shoot victims in the head at close range. To do this they were ordered to first drink 1.5 liters of vodka.
14,000 people were murdered at Babi Yar in two days.
It is a weakness. . .
The Pope didn't leave his palace. . .
Martin Niemoller, a German pastor wrote these famous lines:
They came for the Socialists, and I did not object because I was not a Socialist.The only children who survived the Holocaust were those sent away by their parents. Some left on the KinderTrain (Google the Kindertransport Association). They left Poland, Austria, and Czechoslovakia on a train to Great Britain. Alone.
They came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not object because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not object because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to object.
The "Righteous Among the Nations," risked immediate death if discovered harboring a Jewish person. But the Righteous (euphemism for Gentile) hid Jewish children in attics and closets. After liberation, some "lucky" children were reconnected with war-traumatized parents who came for them, whisked them away from their adoptive parents, the people who had loved and cared for them.
The enormity of such separation, so many separations, is inconceivable, even to those of us who think we understand separation.
Devorah Gold asked her father why he married her mother, how he chose her. He said, straight faced, "She was rich."
"Rich!" shouted Ms. Gold. "How could she have been rich? She was a survivor!"
"She had two sisters," he replied.
She had relatives. Anyone who survived the Holocaust with relatives was rich.
It gives us a little perspective, I think, when we begin to feel sorry for ourselves.
Lest we forget.