“I simply can’t build my hopes on a foundation of confusion, misery and death… I think… peace and tranquility will return again.”
While in Chicago, I felt compelled to visit the Holocaust museum in Skokie Il. You might wonder why I felt compelled to visit this dark period of history? The answer is deeply rooted in my family history. My mother was a World War II refugee who lived in Eastern Germany in a small town named Glogau. My mother and grandmother fled for their lives when Soviet troops destroyed their town before the Iron Curtain was lowered. She and her family escaped and found refuge in a box car and hid for 6 months until they were safe enough to flee to the American zone in Germany. They eventually made their way to the United States. My Mom tells stories of growing up in Nazi Germany. She describes how the Nazi’s would go door-to-door to make sure that Hitler’s picture was posted in a prominent place in the home. She also recollects images of the day they left, the chaos she saw and the families leaving everything behind to escape. I can’t even imagine the courage it took her parents to escape, not knowing where to go or how to get there.
My father’s life was also profoundly shaped by the horrors of WWII. I will share only part of his story now, as the rest will be written in Qi People. He was a 15-year-old Serbian boy living in Yugoslavia. In 1940, he made the conscious choice to pick up a gun and fight against the invading Italian and German armies. My Dad fought against the Nazi’s throughout his teenage years from 1940-1945. He waged a desperate and courageous fight against evil. My father passed away just recently, and I wanted to seek to understand the passion he fought with and the pride he carried with him his whole life regarding his service against an evil enemy. Visiting the Holocaust Museum would give me a chance to see first-hand the level of evil that would inspire a courageous boy, the age of an American high school sophomore, to risk his life for freedom.
My younger sister and I made our way to the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, IL. When we arrived we walked through a garden dedicated to the 1.2 million Jewish children murdered…. I stopped dead in my tracks as the gravity of what I was about to experience became very real. As we approached the building, we passed a reflection fountain that lent tribute to the people who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. It was a reminder of the many that had their moral compass calibrated, their qi energized, their thoughts clear and the utmost courage to do what was right and just. They couldn’t save everyone, but they did what they could in the face of fear.
As we walked in, it was hard not to notice the concrete cinder block walls, the dark, drab and cold feeling. After going through security we made our way from beginning to end. We listened to the testimonies of survivors of the Holocaust as they spoke for their loved ones who were fortunate to make it out alive. Their words were haunting and gut-wrenching. One woman describes standing in line listening to the German guards telling each person which line to go in. She says they screamed and pointed, “Left… Right…. Life….. Death….” As a little girl, she could not understand that this was life or death. She only understood that she was being separated from her family. Today, she is considered a “lucky one”, having been saved from the Auschwitz gas chamber…. Impossible and unfathomable to imagine standing in her shoes.
The artifacts were many and the documentation and explanations were thorough and certainly thought-provoking. I found myself sighing in disbelief at the stories and depictions. Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, it became much worse. Reading about it is one thing, seeing it is another, but living it through the personal testimonies was almost too much to bear leaving me feeling as though I were suffocating. I had to step away several times from envisioning the horror that these innocent people had to endure.
Among all the artifacts and displays, there was one photo that was seared into my mind and I cannot allow it to escape. It is a picture of a mother and her children waiting to be murdered.
I am left with so many questions of “Why?” Why did this occur? Why didn’t the world rise up earlier against this regime? Why did this have to happen? Where were the moral compasses? Why were the spirits so weak that they could not stop these atrocities? Who in their right mind could have thought ANY of this was ok? I walk away with more questions than answers. One of the last videos presented came with a warning indicating how obscene and graphic the video would be. I took a deep breath as the video began and my hand made its way to my mouth as I stood and watched the gruesome murder of innocent lives. I simply could not hold the tears any longer as my raw emotion took over. I stepped away and my sister and I simply looked at each other in utter disbelief.
Just when I thought the end was near, we turned a corner and there on display was an original boxcar used to corral the Jews and transport them to Auschwitz. As I took a step inside, the smell of old wood permeated the enclosed area. The wooden floors had holes in them as if they were haphazardly built under a time constraint and for no important reason. I stood there trying to envision being forced into close confines not knowing where I was going and then to arrive to the death camp… The courage it took for the parents to keep their children calm knowing what fate they arrived at. The sadness and pain both mental and physical that plagued them not knowing what possible crime they could have committed to be sentenced to such brutality. They lost all they had, their homes, their families, their freedom, their dignity and then the ultimate sacrifice, their lives…. By the eyes and hands of pure evil.
The final portion of the museum was one last video. The video presented the concept of “The Power of One”….. It takes just one good person to stand up against evil. If every “one” stood up against the regimes in the world capable of Genocide, horrific events such as those seen with the Nazi’s and those in Darfur…and now Nigeria…would never come to fruition. Lives would be spared and evil would be eradicated. If only “One Courageous” person could have led the world in a revolt sooner…. Would I even be reliving those haunting images that are ingrained in my mind like the numbers permanently branded on the innocent arms of the persecuted Jewish men and women?
We stopped in the gift shop as I had a compelling need to patronize this museum for having the courage to share this most important story and experience with the world.
My sister and I really did not speak much following that Quest. It was a lot to process and handle. It is with the truest sense of appreciation that I say a heartfelt, “Thank you” to the men and women who gave their lives trying to end the Nazi terror inflicted on so many. The bravery and selflessness that led them into a brutal battle against evil should be admired and emulated.
My mother and father shared stories, but it was the Holocaust museum that filled in the blanks and allowed me to see that evil is real and only courage can defeat it.