Thursday, February 21, 2013

Shoah Memorial

I love Paris but I'm not a Francophile by any means and there are plenty of things about the French/Paris that I am not enamored with, stalkers notwithstanding. I just think the best attitude in this world, especially when traveling to foreign countries, is to be curious, but not judgmental.  Having said that, I remember in high school we had a French exchange student who was quite proud of his heritage - as he should - but who rubbed some students the wrong way and during a particularly heated exchange, a U.S student screamed at him, stop thinking the French are so superior, you're nothing but cheese-eating surrender monkeys [followed by garbled sounds approximating the French language]! The French student then yelled some expletives in return but in a French accent which was adorable.

France's history is indeed besmirched by its immediate and complete surrender to the Nazis and for giving up almost 80,000 of its own citizens - women, children, babies...everyone - to the concentration camps where the majority died under horrific circumstances.  I've always been particularly interested in the Holocaust; ever since I was a child and read books about the Holocaust and learned about it in school, I have been morbidly horrified by how almost 6,000,000 people, including very young children and the elderly, were systematically disenfranchised, segregated, then tortured and murdered just because of their heritage.  I used to have nightmares about it.  And it wasn't that far back in history, this happened in the 1940s!

I feel that my generation, especially those who are well-educated, do not minimize or question the atrocities that occurred.  I was shocked, however, when I started practicing at big law firms, to find that those from the older generations could be much more indifferent, sometimes, even dismissive of the genocide. I remember having lunch with one older partner and he dropped the comment that "Jews wear the Holocaust on their sleeves."  Having been raised by my parents to be respectful and compassionate of other cultures and their histories and unique pains, I was blown away, how dare he??!

I had been to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. which was pretty amazing and so I wanted to also visit the Shoah Memorial [shoah = catastrophe; devastation] in Paris which was built and maintained to pay respects to the approximately 76,000 French Jews who were murdered at the concentration camps.

Front of the building:


You walk in the gates and you come to walls with the names of all the French Jews who passed during the Holocaust with blanks for those who died but whose names could not be ascertained:




 Inside the museum, walls of photographs of those who passed:



Horrifying!  Imagine being a small child, ripped away from your family, sent to freezing concentration camps where brutality was commonplace, then sent to your death in mass gas chambers.  This happened! 
The "Righteous of Europe" is a term given to non-Jews in Europe who helped the Jews during the Holocaust.  The U.S. was silent for a long time simply because it refused to give credence to the reports of survivors or soldiers who witnessed the wholesale massacre of the Jews.


Concentration camp uniforms.  Prisoners had nothing else and wore these thin pajamas during forced labor in the freezing European winters and of course many died.  
Train tracks to Auschwitz.  

Doors of Barrack No. 6 of the Beaune-la-Rolande concentration camp.  
The underground crypt with an eternal flame.  

I don't think this post has to be depressing.  This is a part of world history, we should never forget what happened and we can be happy that we and our loved ones are safe and sound and will, hopefully, never have to witness such atrocities in our lifetime.  Genocide has, however, taken place numerous times in modern history and still occurs today - look at the civil wars in Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur.  To be a meaningful and contributing citizen of this world is to be aware of the suffering of others...that is the very least we can do - don't judge the apathetic Germans or Americans of the 1940s when there are similar acts occurring right now...you can do more here (this organization is particularly well-run; George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Don Cheadle and Matt Damon are some of its founders, major kudos to them). 

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