Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Visit Of Holocaust Museum Sobering

September 11, 1995

In a city filled with monuments and museums giving tribute to lofty human nobility and accomplishment, there is a place depicting the depths of human depravity and cruelty. It is the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. Go there. It will wound your heart in a way that history books never can.

Photographs and displays show the richness of religious and cultural life of Jewish families and communities before the persecution started. They will give you an identification card of a same sex Jewish person and experience the beginnings of persecution, the deprivation of civil rights, eviction from homes into ghetto life, forced labor, and finally into the horrors of a concentration camp and ultimate death.

My identification card read as follows: Name: Thomas Pfeffer. Date of Birth: Nov. 22, 1936. Place of birth: Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Thomas' father, Hienz was a German-Jewish refugee who had married Henrietta De Leeuw, a Dutch-Jewish woman. Frightened by the Nazi dictatorship and the murder of Heinz's uncle in a concentration camp, they emigrated to the Netherlands when Henrietta was nine months pregnant with Thomas' older brother Jan-Peter. They settled in Amsterdam . . .

In 1939, the parents and brother of Tommy's father joined them in the Netherlands as refugees from Germany. Tommy and Jan-Peter grew up speaking Dutch as their native language, that they often spent time at their mother's native home in the country.

The Germans occupied Amsterdam in May 1940. Despite the German occupation, four year old Tommy did not feel much change in his day-to day life. When he was six, the Germans sent his grandmother to a camp called Westerbrook. Six months later Tommy and his family were sent to the same camp. Here Tommy celebrated his seventh birthday. That winter the Pfeffers were sent to a far away ghetto called Theresiendstadt in Czechoslovakia where Tommy felt cold, scared and hungry.

On May 18, 1944, Tommy was deported with his family to Auschwitz. He was gassed on July 11, 1944. Tommy was seven years old.

Multimedia presentations, newsreels, and newspapers capture the events and eventual slide into wholesale murder of a people. You'll see the Nazi rise to power and their skillful use of propaganda to brainwash people to aid and abet their cause. You’ll see the terror of the state unleashed against its citizens.

The enormity of the sheer numbers of people killed becomes real. The numbers of concentrations camps themselves are staggering. Genocide has a face - many faces - and a story to tell - many stories.

The Holocaust Museum depicts the progress of the war through to the defeat of Germany. Knowledge of the camps was known long before the war’s end. Jewish leaders implored the bombing of crematoriums to prevent further deaths. Their counsel went unheeded though nearby military targets were selected. Liberating soldiers give their accounts of what they found at the concentration camps.

You’ll see things you’ll never wish to see again. Medical experiments. The gas chambers. Stacks of boots and suitcases. Mounds of eyeglasses, combs and toothbrushes. Bales of human hair. Pictures of starved bodies, shaved heads, the herding of naked people to their deaths.

You'll hear the voices of the survivors talk about what it was like - who they lost, how they coped with unspeakable evil, how they kept - or in some cases - lost their faith. They tell how families were torn apart and members sent separately to their fate. You will learn of resistance groups, insurrections and brutal recriminations.

You will see a wall honoring the friends of the Jewish people and accounts of their bravery and courage in defying Nazi edicts not to harbor or protect Jewish people. Oskar Shindler was just one of many. Numerous people lost their lives by their acts of mercy. You and I can pause and wonder if we would have been that compassionate and heroic to recognize and resist evil.

. One of the great messages of the museum is about bystanders and the role they played in the holocaust. Some countries had a history of defiance to their Nazi overlords and saved their Jewish citizens. The common people in other countries passively turned their heads, averted their eyes and rationalized that this was not their concern.

Spend a day or a half day at the Holocaust museum and you'll have the message, "Never again" burned into your soul. Prejudice and hate may have simple origins but when manipulated by powerful despots and sanctioned by ordinary people, they can cause monstrous atrocities. The visit to the Holocaust Museum made me a witness of things I cannot forget.

Never again. Not to the Jews. Not to anyone.