As a secondary social studies education major, history has always been a topic of fascination to me. History gives us all a chance to learn from what went right in society, what went wrong, and how we can continue to learn from one another. Today, if there is one thing I learned, it’s how we each have a chance to turn a world of hate into love.
With Central Michigan University’s Residence Life program, Resident Assistants, Multicultural Advisors, and residents got the chance to visit the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan. This excursion is meant to help us all learn something new about the world, about social justice issues in society and the past, and the experience helps us relate what happened to how it affects the world today.
The day started off by being broken up into touring groups as Central Michigan University had a really big group there overall. Our tour guide sat us down in front of the memorial pictured above her and explained the meaning behind it. All of the countries affected by the Holocaust are named up on the memorial. However, these are the countries that had people die in the Holocaust whether they were Jewish, had a disability, LGBTQ+, and more. The numbers of people that died were reflected under the country names.
In addition to this, there were a list of the concentration camps next to the countries overall. A lot of the names, I have heard of before from visiting other museums. But what caught my eye in the middle of this area was an eternal flame: a flame that never goes out to keep the memory of the affected alive. The tour guide explained that many people believe for a soul to die, it dies twice. The first time is when a person actually dies. The second time is when the last person to have memories with the person dies. This is why the flame is kept lit because it is important for history’s sake and because of this event that we do not forget the people who went through such tragedies. So, we make sure we keep their souls alive and in our memory.
From here, the tour guide walked us through the historical exhibit where we learned about the history of Judaism. We learned how this religion was one of the first ones to have a monotheistic God, which means one god. What this did was create anti-semitism for years as people saw the Jewish religion as a disgrace, or as the “different” religion. Eventually, this inspired the events of the Holocaust.
After this, we learned about the history of Adolf Hitler along with the uprising of the Nazi Party in Germany. We learned of the Nazi agenda, which consisted of three things: To create a superior race of Germans with blonde hair and blue eyes, to exterminate all of the Jewish people, and to expand as much as possible to be the dominant society. However, what we saw is that Hitler along with other officials changed policies one step at a time, making subtle changes in the ways that people thought, and changes in the way that people viewed the Jewish people. Hitler even said once that by using the press as an enemy, it could be easy to lie to big groups of people and make change. We learned how even though Hitler had an agenda, it took a group of people to make it happen. This is where things started to get emotional.
At this point, we learned about how the Jewish people were treated in these camps. From being worked to death, to marching to death, and even being sent to death camps to die right away, over six million people were exterminated from the Holocaust. What put this into more perspective is when we walked into this room with a very narrow path, and six video screens. The tour guide told us that if the images were too disturbing, we could come down to the end of the hallway with her. You see, General Eisenhower went into Europe to these concentration camps. He decided if you were not there, you could not understand it. That is why he and his crew decided to record what they saw with videos: and these videos came up on the screens.
The dead bodies of Jewish people who died in the Holocaust kept playing on one screen to another. Bodies piled on top of one another, bodies so skinny that their bones were easy to see, bodies that had eyes out of the socket holes. The only thing I could do along with everyone else is look in shock and disbelief. Eventually, after moments of silence and shock, we continued on. This was one of the most scarring things I have ever seen and I still have the images in my head.
From here, we learned about the end of the war. The Nuremberg trials occurred with only a dozen people being sentenced to death. There were a total of twenty two people tried at this time as well, but not too much more from there. But one of the most surprising things I found out is that after the war, Holocaust survivors were helped out to be rehabilitated back into society. At this point, there was a huge increase in babies born. The reason why is because at this point, love had gotten so many people through the tragedies they faced. This was something I did not hear much about, but it made me happy to know that love was a catalyst to helping so many people to survive by giving them something to live for as they endured horrible conditions.
Finally, we looked over to our left to see a video screen along with a clock. The number on this clock was over 100 million or so. Every nineteen seconds, this huge number went up by one as every nineteen seconds, someone dies from genocide around the world. This huge number was a number of all the genocides committed since the end of the Holocaust. The fact that this number is such a high rate overall shocked me along with everyone else. Even after such a tragic event, hatred still occurs in the world today.
At the end of all of this, we got to hear about the Holocaust from a different perspective: The perspective of a survivor. She stood at the front of an auditorium as we all walked in. Her name was Rae and she kept on asking us what our majors were, intrigued to hear more about each one and to see the diversity in the room. After we all sat down, she began to share her story. When the war began in 1939, the Germans evacuated her family from Poland and moved them over to the U.S.S.R, which made them refugees. At one point, the Russians essentially imprisoned her family and others to an area in northern Russia where the family everyday had to complete different labor tasks. Eventually, they returned to Poland when the war ended, but they realized all of their family from Poland was practically dead and did not have much to offer. The family made the decision to try and flee over to the United States in 1946. However, tensions were still high, making it hard for the family to escape. They had to sneak over boarders illegally to attempt this. However, during one of the trips, her parents were killed, leaving her and her siblings (four others) to be orphans as they escaped to America. Finally, they made it to Detroit in 1948. She then told us about her family today and how many of them graduated college including herself, she showed us her siblings later on in life, and she talked about her late husband who was also a Holocaust survivor. She told us so much about her life, we all could not help but stand and clap for her at the end thanking her for her time and the opportunity to hear from here.
One big thing that she told us at the end is that America provided her the opportunity to work hard in life and essentially gave her a chance to be successful. She also mentioned that in some ways, America has gotten better about things, but has gotten worse about things. The biggest pieces of advice she gave us were the following: 1. Do not be afraid to work hard. And 2. Choose to spread love over hate in this world.
This leads me to reflect on the bigger piece of things: what could I walk away and say I learned overall? What stuck with me most? From this, I would have to say the meaning of empathy, as well as the difference between privilege and oppression in society.
In regards to empathy, it was amazing to hear about the history of the Holocaust from more of an emotional view with some facts incorporated. None of us knew what it was like to go through such horrific experiences in life. However, the stories shared, the imagery, and the intentionality with everything in this museum made us feel empathy for all of the people who were affected by tragedy in life.
If there is one idea I want you all to take away from this, it is the following right here: the difference between privilege and oppression. Privilege is a special right or advantage available to a group of people in society. An example of this could be a privilege of being part of a majority religion, being part of a wealthier class, etc. Now compare this with oppression. Oppression is the prolonged cruel or unjust treatment towards other people based off of traits or privileges. Essentially, there is a bridge between privilege and oppression. When people notice their privilege in society, they can oppress others and hurt other people because not all people have the same advantages, or privileges, in life. This brings up a huge moral to all of this: We all need to take a look at who we are, what we believe, how we operate, and need to choose to spread love over hate.
Events like this one in life are tragic to even think about. I still cannot even fathom some of things I saw or heard about. However, instead of being a bystander in life and not do anything when others are being oppressed, go up to the oppressed individual and show them empathy. Let them know you are there for them to help them, love them, and be with them even when the world is not. This is something I hope you all can take away from reading this today: Choose to love other hate.
This is how we can stop these events from happening again…