Only guard yourself and guard your soul carefully, lest you forget the things your eyes saw, and lest these things depart your heart all the days of your life. And you shall make them known to your children and to your children's children.
This verse from Deuteronomy is carved into the marble wall in the Hall of Remembrance in the Holocaust Museum in Washington. I visited the museum a couple of months ago and knew that I wanted to make known what I saw there to my child... and so I took her today. Being there hurts my heart and I wrestled with the idea that Ryan might be too young to appreciate the message... or face the horror... and when I was there last, I saw few children her age. But she is mature for nine, so I took a chance. And I'm glad I did.
We started with the childrens' exhibition, Daniel's Story, which is excellent. It's a very visual and hands-on telling of the Holocaust experience from the viewpoint of an 11-year-old Jewish boy. She took it all in, quietly and thoughtfully. We moved on to the main exhibit after that. The details of the history were too much (and too complex), for her to process, as it covers 1933 to 1945, but the details weren't what I wanted to focus on anyway. We walked slowly through and I pointed out various things to her, including the photos of the non-Jewish people who were also targeted by Hitler. She realized that although I would have been 'safe', given my whiter-than-white heritage, she, with her dark skin and Hispanic and Native American blood, would have been someone Hitler considered inferior. That generated wide eyes and a look that went from disbelief to horror to anger. It's not something she'll soon forget... of that, I'm certain.
Afterward, I asked her how she felt about what she saw. She told me she was sad and so sorry for the people who suffered and died just because they were born Jewish. She said it didn't make sense to her and it made her so angry. I told her I was glad she felt that way because that's how all good people should feel. I explained that there are still people, people in the US even, who believe Hitler was right. There are people who are so angry and afraid of anyone who is different from them and that sort of anger and fear can cause people to do awful things to one another. And I told her that's why I keep saying that we have to live our lives unafraid, embracing diversity, exhibiting tolerance, expressing love... we simply cannot live in the same dark place where so very many people live today.
I wanted Ryan to finish The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (a book about the unlikely friendship between a Jewish boy and the son of the Commandant of Auschwitz) before our visit to the museum. She did (last night, under the covers, after she was supposed to be asleep!). On the way to DC, I asked her what message she took from the story.
She answered, "That people learn how to hate and fear. Seems like those people can learn to love, too, if they just have someone to teach them."
Well. That's what I call a light in the dark.
And here she is... my little light in the dark (and her proud mom).