Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Yad Vashem

Yesterday the group went to visit Yad Vashem. The night before, we did an activity where we all gathered around papers on the floor, each of which had a different emotion typed on it. Although a lot of us expressed that we felt a combinations of many of the emotions, we were to choose the one we identified with most. I decided to choose the paper that read “Confused.” For me, a grandchild of survivors, I was confused about what my reaction should be, would be, and how I deal with it. Indeed, upon exiting the museum, I did feel very confused. I had just seen and taken in so many things that touched me so deeply and made me feel so many different things, I wasn’t sure how to react or what to say. Through talking with people in the group (and our many wonderful bus rides), I found the time to be able to reflect and sort through how this museum made me feel.
We started off our experience with a tour down the Path of the Righteous where we were offered the opportunity by our tour guide to share if we had any family who survived and to say where they were. I couldn’t believe how many people in our small group had families who were personally affected by the Holocaust. Later, our tour guide explained that when some survivors were asked about wanting revenge for what they were forced to endure, the survivors said their revenge came in the form of their children, the continuation of the Jewish people. So we, as a group of these children or these children’s children, all delved into this exploration together.
            One particularly prominent thought I kept returning to came up when we heard about those Jews who were not lucky enough to survive the camps and ghettos. I kept coming back to the question, “Why me? Why my grandparents? Why am I standing here instead of someone else’s granddaughter? What made my family so much more deserving than the families of these amazing, talented inspirational people who everything, including their lives, taken away from?” Room after room, I stared at dioramas, photos, and objects, and my tear-filled eyes took everything in while these questions remained unanswered.
            I don’t think I could accurately convey how much the group supported each other through this rollercoaster of emotions. For me, the smiles, arm pats, back rubs and understanding eyes proved to me that I had chosen the right time to go to Yad Vashem, an amazing place I never thought I would emotionally be able to handle. I found myself pushing myself past my limits, and as a result gaining so much perspective and knowledge that I will take with me forever. At one point I was asked if I was okay and if I wanted to keep going (this is when I knew that I really looked like a mess). I thought for a minute, and responded that even if I didn’t want to continue for myself, I would continue for my family, particularly thinking of my grandfather who has done so much for Holocaust and tolerance education and awareness in the United States. When leaving, I even signed the book, “I am here not only for myself, but for my family members as well-both those who survived and those who did not.”
            In the room full of Holocaust victim’s records, I took a deep breath and walked into a back room with computers, each of which had an internet page pulled up to a search engine to find records of those who perished. Not wanting to lose the group, I went for the first person I thought of. Next thing I know, I was staring at a photo of my grandmother’s brother, Benjamin (Benno) Soep. I was overwhelmed by the intense combination of thoughts and emotions that hit me like a wall. Looking back on this moment, I am so thankful for the unique opportunity that Yad Vashem gave to combine broad, general ideas and the big events, with small, personal moments like this in an absolutely moving way.
            We ended our visit by being fortunate enough to hear a survivor speak. Asher Ud touched all of us with his eloquent and straight-forward delivery, expressing so wonderfully everything he had to do to simply alive. I believe that his strength and openness, and the unbelievable nature of his story, left our group understanding the importance of taking opportunities to talk to survivors as their numbers decrease and the Holocaust moves further into the past.
            I did not come up with an answer to my “Why me?” question until much later on that night, right before I was going to bed. I realized, “why” isn’t the important part. No matter who is here as survivors, or children or grandchildren if survivors, we should not question why us over somebody else. My grandfather often says to me, “I should not say this, but I should not be alive, so you should not be alive. So you much appreciate and use the life G-d gave you, and make sure that nothing like the Holocaust happens again.” So, after sorting through all of the emotions, I realized that the visit to Yas Vashem made me want to fight for tolerance and justice as a representative of the survivors, and of those who were unable to create families of their own. Our visit to Yad Vashem was an extremely powerful experience for us all, and something I don’t think any of us will ever forget.
-Sofi Shield '14

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