Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for the first time. The experience is extremely powerful, and not for the faint-of-heart. The atrocities committed by the German people were astounding, and the permanent exhibit takes great pains to hide very little of the horrific truth. Despite the disturbing imagery, however, it is presented in - for lack of a better description - a tasteful manner.
The most amazing item displayed was a recreation from cast of a portion of a path connecting Treblinka with a nearby forced labor camp. The recreation runs maybe fifty feet, directly in front of the Voices from Auschwitz section. (You cannot see it in the photo because it is behind the benches.) At first glance, the asymmetrical pattern of stones appears just like any other stone path - until you notice the carved Hebrew letters. A small plaque nearby explains: The path is built from the crushed remains of Jewish tombstones.
The power of the Nazis’ hatred astounds me. They were not content to merely exterminate some six million people. The forced labor and ghettos and gassing were not enough. They did not merely destory the graves of those they oppressed, but they crushed the markers of those same graves and used them as the basest of raw materials - and built a road. They trod upon the victims of their massacre with the same cold platitude as one who might walk down a sidewalk. Every day. the soldiers’ boot heels stamped down onto the last memory of the ancestors of those they were slaughtering, while they talked of women and laughed at swapped stories and planned their war.
Or perhaps on that path walked the very scions of those from whose graves the road had been built. The victims were forced to desecrate their own forefathers as part of their march to certain death. I can imagine nothing more denigrating and insulting. How did it ever get to that point, even with a lunatic in charge?
The museum does a good job implicating the rest of the so-called civilized world - for how can any society that even once creates such a cancer consider itself civil - and especially the United States government, with complicity in the events that occurred. There are also several carefully worded petitions to support an end to the events in Darfur.
I certainly recommend it. As is stated several times throughout the building: For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.