I have a broader knowledge of the Holocaust than I ever did before. The main experiences that broadened and impacted my understanding of the Holocaust was working with Auschwitz survivor Rachel Roth, visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington D.C., and visiting the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City.
Rachel Roth was born in Poland and was placed in the Warsaw ghetto in the fall of 1940. Rachel suffered
through the loss of her mother, two sisters, brother, grandparents, and uncles during her time in the ghetto and her subsequent shipment to the camps of Majdanek, Auschwitz, and Bergen-Belsen. Rachel’s story is one of determination and survival and is an inspiration to all who read her autobiography, Here There is No Why. When reading Rachel’s story, you can imagine the struggles that she went through, but when you go to the museums and see the artifacts of the period, her story becomes much more real and intense. The Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City displays items from the ghettos around Poland that help us see how life was in the ghetto. These items impacted me because I never knew that the ghettos had their own money, and that the ration cards signified how little food there really was in the ghetto.
Another book that we had to read for class was on the Warsaw Ghetto and the Uprising that took place in the ghetto in 1943. The author does a great job describing life in the ghetto and the conditions that led to the Uprising. However, it is one thing to read the book and another to see the weapons that the ghetto fighters used during the uprising. Seeing these items made the Warsaw rebellion all the more real for me and to picture Rachel Roth, who participated in the Uprising, smuggling these types of weapons into the ghetto is inspiring.
Another emotional moment for me was seeing the room of shoes in the USHMM. The smell of the decomposing shoes was overwhelming. The sight of all those shows was heartbreaking, the images of all those people that died in the Holocaust that those shoes brought to mind was difficult to deal with.
Another aspect of the museums that impacted me were the displays on Auschwitz. Seeing the boxcar and the prisoner uniforms almost brought me to tears. Walking through the boxcar in the USHMM was almost crippling because I could imagine how the Jewish prisoners felt when they were packed into the cars on their journey to camps like Auschwitz. While reading our book on the creation of the Auschwitz camp, we learned about the building of the barracks and process of choosing Zyklon B as a killing method. At the USHMM, there is a replica of the barracks which impacted me because I felt like one of the prisoners walking back to their barracks.