While walking around on campus, I came across an advertisement for the Holocaust Exhibit at the UC. It made me think about what history I had learned in my early education. A general overview of the tragedy, in the context of WW2, accompanied by a reading of Night.
It was a solemn topic that, admittedly, I hadn’t had much of a desire to revisit. After all, I knew what happened in the Holocaust. It was terrible, but it’s in the past. Right?
Upon further thought, it became apparent that antisemitism is still alive. It still rears its face in the most developed of countries, including America. To get a better understanding as to why? I decided to visit the exhibit.
When I entered the exhibit, it was full of silence. I was in the company of no one besides the volunteers manning the entrance. They gave me headphones to interact with the exhibit’s videos and directed me to the first station.
The station was a narrated video on the history of antisemitism. Contrary to popular belief, antisemitism is not an ideology that rose to prominence when Hitler’s Third Reich swept through Germany in 1933. Rather, it began following the crucifixion of Jesus in 33 A.D.
As the narrator told it, the early Christian church held that all Jewish people were responsible for the death of Christ. The claim that Jews killed Jesus was never addressed until 1960 when the Second Vatican council renounced it.
Once Christianity became the dominant religion in the Roman Empire, the church used its authority to make laws discriminating against Jewish people. The church held that this was justified, as Jews would not convert to the dominant religion.
From then on, Jews faced persecution in various ways. Destructive lies tainted their reputations, calls of violence toward them from leaders of opposing religions, government lead psyops claimed they plotted for world domination.
Leaving the first station I was shocked by how little of the history I was familiar with. Having grown up in a Christian household, I felt totally ignorant to the extensive past of antisemitism that the church had openly spread.
On the way to the next station hung numerous images of primary resources. These powerful displays told of the tremendous efforts made by educators and some citizens that resisted Nazi authority to do what they could in the wake of evil.
The following walls told the story of the Third Reich’s authoritarian takeover and the strategies they used to connect to the people of Germany’s long-held antisemitic beliefs.
The second video station was incredibly difficult to watch, as it covered the death marches to the concentration camps. The brutality of the Nazis was on full display as imagery of their crimes played to a solemn voice listing the number of those dead.
When I arrived at the third station, I met the luggage case of a holocaust survivor. Its contents were bare, consisting only of a pair of shoes, perfume, silverware, photos of family, and a few clothing items. The television of this station played a film telling a heart-wrenching first-person account of survivor Gerda Weissmann. While hearing her story, my eyes rested on the items which sat before me. I imagine where they traveled, the hands which held them in 1939, and how those same hands would’ve held them differently in 1946.
The final stretch of the exhibit held graphics telling what life was like afterward for those who survived, primarily that of the children. Most were left with no family, devastated by the effects of starvation, disease, and the trauma that robbed them of their childhoods.
The exhibit concluded with a somber reminder that such evils exist in the world today.
The first step in fighting these evils is to learn from them. I urge you to seek a greater understanding of what enabled the Holocaust to happen. It is not enough simply to be against evil in this magnitude. You must actively move to stop hate in all forms, whether it is denouncing a senseless joke or standing up to those toting exclusionary ideologies.
It is the ignorance of the privileged and the subtlety of the knowledgeable, which keeps hate alive. Never stop learning, and never forget.
For further information, visit www.ushmm.org.