Today I went with my ten year old son’s class on a field trip to the Dallas Holocaust Museum and Center for Education and Tolerance. As we walked in and the docent explained the self guided tour devices we were all given my son stood and stared at the picture above.
I had decided beforehand to let him take the lead and be there right along with him to answer his questions. I thought this would enable him to take it in at his own pace and absorb the information in the way he could best handle it. I honestly wasn’t sure how he would react being that we had talked about the Holocaust in the past but never showed the kids any of the graphic and terrifying images.
Since I first heard that the fifth grade would be going on this field trip I have been thinking about my high school Government class and the three days we spent watching the documentary footage of the death camps of the Nazi’s. Much of the footage was silent and I was so disturbed by what I saw over those days that I was unable to eat or stop thinking about the people whose emaciated dead bodies I saw piled up on carts, pushed into mass graves by bulldozers and thrown into pits or onto bon fires by their fellow prisoners who were forced to do so by gun point.
So we walked, my son and I through the pictures and exhibits that had been collected in this small museum in the heart of Dallas. I watched in amazement as the 10 year old boy, who loves to talk to you about his passions and joke with his friends, became silent and went methodically through the museum listening to everything his recorded guide had to say about each item.
After the permanent exhibits we viewed the special installation of children’s art from the camps. The pictures were beautiful, and haunting and heartbreaking. We learned that of the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, 1.5 million of them were children under 15.
I was so proud of him. He didn’t try to keep up with his friends, he didn’t turn away. He just stared and listened and asked questions. Mom, are those really shoes from the people who were killed? Are those real bodies? Why did people hate the Jews? They did medical experiments on that guy? Did they really kill the kids? How could anyone do this?
When we look at someone different than us and decide that they are less than us,
When we judge entire peoples as cursed by God and less than human,
When we begin to believe the lie that the world would be a better place if everyone just looked like, acted like and believed like me,
When we can look in the face of a child and rather than seeing something beautiful we see something we despise,
When we believe that it doesn’t concern us when others are harmed,
When we sit silently by and do nothing because to get involved puts us in danger too,
When we look the other way,
We begin the descent toward an evil which is unspeakable and unimaginable.
We must never forget.
We must show the pictures.
We must hear the stories.
We must not turn away.
We must be upstanders.
The quote in the picture at the beginning of this post is from Albert Einstein who once said, “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
Today I encourage us all to become what the Holocaust Museum referred to as upstanders. An upstander is a person who takes action, paricularly when the easiest or most acceptable course is to do nothing.
As with all of life it boils down to love. We must love our neighbors. All our neighbors. We must stand up and be counted on the side of love whenever and however possible. Sometimes that means we must stand in the gap and repel the forces of evil even when it means placing ourselves in harm’s way.
And…like my son learned today, we must never forget.