Monday, April 15, 2013

A Day Filled with Symbolism (Part I)

Last week I was a chaperone for my grandson’s eighth-grade class field trip across the Missouri River into to St. Louis -- or OTB (over the bridge) as one mom called it -- to the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica.

             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. 

7 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Donna. Every time I read about the Nazi regime, it still is so unbelievable, it seems like fiction. I want to visit that Holocaust museum some day. Maybe we can ride together.....OTB?

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  2. Hi Becky,
    It is hard to believe the cruelty and inhumane treatment inflicted on others by one group of fanatics. One map showed global spots where persecution is still going on in the world.
    And the trip to the museum is worth the drive OTB.
    Donna

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  3. Unimaginable horrors. I'm sure the museum is a very poignant place to visit.

    Pat
    Critter Alley

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  4. I had no idea this museum even existed. Thank you for the tip! I wish I could have been with you. Though I had read Anne Frank, my first real heavy-duty Nazi lesson was while subbing in Hazelwood years ago. I was part of a two day showing of Night and Fog in the high school. It was such an experience for me...and how the students reacted at the time...and a wonderful older teacher taught me along with the students.

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  5. Hi Pat,
    It was a moving experience.

    Hi Claudia,

    That must've been quite an experience for you.

    I didn't know the museum existed until four years ago when my granddaughter's class took a field trip there. I didn't make it that year but was determined to go this time. I'm so glad I did.

    Donna

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  6. Donna - Very moving. Years ago I knew a Jewish Rabbi who survived the Holocaust. We became friends and would occasionally meet for lunch. I always knew that the things he told me, horrifying as they were, only scratched the surface of what he had endured.

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  7. Those kinds of trips are so interesting. I tend to cry (quietly) when going through such emotional exhibits. I've decided to not be embarrassed, just carry plenty of tissue.

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