It is hard for someone, in this day and age, to comprehend the enormity of the Holocaust. I have trouble making sense of it and I'm supposedly a learned person, one who has visited the excellent Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles and â€“ this week — the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C.
If it is difficult for adults to understand the depth of horror and pain caused by the Nazis, imagine trying to convey that to children. What I have found through my 15 years as a reporter and recent work as a teacher, is that it is images and concepts, more than words and quotes, that help people come closer to understanding it all. For example, there is a documentary called Paper Clips (2004) about a group of students from Whitwell, Tennessee Middle School. A student in the small town, which had no Jews, said it was impossible to comprehend six million of anything, let alone that many people killed. The students decided to try to collect six million paper clips, choosing those objects since Norwegians wore those in their lapels as a silent solidarity gesture with the Holocaust victims. Not only did the idea catch on â€“ with the help of media attention â€“ but also they ended up with 11 million paper clips, enough to include the five million Holocaust victims who were not Jewish. The paper clips were an attempt to illustrate the warâ€™s horror, which canâ€™t be summed up in words and images.
It also does not hurt to let them interact with Holocaust-related exhibits.
Visitors at the D.C. museum walk through a freight car. A sign indicates the freight car is similar to those used to move 1,000 to 2,000 people headed to the concentration camps. At times, the freight cars would hold up to 5,000 people. The heavier the load, the slower the car would go â€“ sometimes as slow as 30 miles per hour â€“ and the longer the anguished trip would be. It was in trains like this that thousands were taken to the concentration camp in Dachau, Germany. While the name of the camp is not as well known as Auschwitz, this camp served as a training center for SS concentration camp guards. It was also used as a model for other concentration camps. When American forces, 60 years ago this week, liberated the camp, they found more than 30 freight cars filled with bodies in advanced states of decomposition.