Sunday, August 22, 2010

Orange Line: Smithsonian (Holocaust Museum)

Today Eric, his daughter, and I went to the Holocaust Museum. It's been open for a while but I have neglected going, in part because I was afraid it would be too disturbing. While there are moments when you hold your breath inside one of the rail cars, smelling the cedar, and not being able to comprehend what it must have been like standing there with a group of people on your way to a concentration camp, overall the exhibit was a celebration of those people who lived and suffered, some surviving and others not.

There is a three-story enclave filled with photographs of people in happier moments and a lower wall dedicated to non-Jews who risked their lives to help others emigrate or hide during the war. When you first enter the museum you are given an Identification Card, a small booklet with the story of a real person who lived during the Holocaust. Each card is different and the transaction immediately makes the visit more personal. Here is Sophie's story:

Name: Sophie Weisz
Date of Birth: February 23, 1927
Place of Birth: Valea-lui-Minhai, Romania

Sophie was born to a prosperous Jewish family in a village near the Hungarian border known for its winemaking and carriage wheel industries. The village had many Jewish merchants. Her father owned a lumber yard. Sophie loved to dance in the large living room of their home as her older sister, Agnes, played the piano.

1933-39: My father believed in a Jewish homeland and sent money to Palestine to plant trees and establish settlements there. When I was 10, I was sent to a school in nearby Ordea because our village had only elementary schools. I missed my family, but studied hard, and swam and ice skated for fun. Though we heard about the roundups of Jews after the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, we felt safe in Romania.

1940-44: Hungary annexed our region in 1940; by mid-1941 they'd joined the German forces. We were forced into the Ordea ghetto in May 1944, and then deported to Auschwitz. In August my mother, sister, and I were moved hundreds of miles north to Stuffhof on the Baltic coast for forced labor. The prisoners were asked to entertain the German soldiers at Christmas; I danced to the music of the ballet Coppelia in a costume fashioned from guaze and paper. I earned extra food for this, and shared it with my sister Agnes.

Sophie and her sister escaped while on a forced march in February 1945. Her mother and father perished in the camps. In February 1949 Sophie emigrated to the United States.

100 Raoul Wallenberg Place, SW
Washington, DC 20024

Within walking distance of the orange line's Smithsonian stop. For more stories, click on the personal histories link above.

1 comment:

Evil Pixie said...

That is devastating. It's a shame people so easily forget.