Over the years I’ve driven for dozens of field trips, but this one was exceptional for many reasons. As a writer I was impressed by the contrasts and symbolism. As a believer, I was moved by the spiritual nature of both places.
Our group of twenty-three students and six adults started off the morning at the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center in St. Louis County. Our docent for the tour was outstanding – articulate, passionate, knowledgeable, steadfast, and warm. She told us she had been a middle-grade teacher, so she welcomed our group of eighth-grade students as “her people.”
She shared some history about World War II, focusing on the Holocaust. One fact that made an impression on the faces of the teens was the horrible truth that 1.5 million children were among the six million Jews killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
The symbolism in the museum was stark, yet moving. Stars of David graced the walls of the reception area. One exhibit room was filled with photos of concentration camp victims. The room also held a Nazi flag, prisoner photos, and identification cards. Incased in a corner was a pair of striped pajamas worn in a concentration camp. One photo in a cracked frame showed the broken glass and damage during Krystallnacht; another photo showed books being piled up and burned.
One wall displayed colored badges prisoners were forced to wear: Yellow for Jews, red for political prisoners, pink for homosexuals, purple for Jehovah’s Witnesses, brown for gypsies, black, green, blue, and other color designations for groups targeted by the Nazis for extinction. Many of the photos and displays are replicas of those from the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.
After weaving our way through the exhibit rooms, we were ushered into an auditorium where we listened to an elderly Jewish woman talk about her experiences as a young girl living in Romania during the Nazi occupation. The room was silent and somber as she spoke in a soft voice about how she made her way from Europe to the United States, which she described as “the best country in the world” because of its freedom. The message of both our docent and the woman were: be kind to others, no matter who they are or how different they look, and speak out if you see someone being bullied or abused.
Our time at the Holocaust Museum was too short; I plan to return so I can explore more of the exhibits. After I got home that night I visited the center's website and discovered that each spring the center holds an annual art and writing contest for middle grade and high school students. The 2013 deadline has just passed, but it’s not too early for students to think about next year.
In my next post I’ll write about our visit to the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica and the rich symbolism there.