A Lesson On Storytelling, As Told By The Holocaust Museum

By visiting the Holocaust Museum, you’ll not only be moved by the narratives told within its walls, but hopefully you’ll be moved to tell these narratives yourselves.

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The hardest struggles are those of everyday life. They’re the struggles that plague us from the moment we open our eyes in the morning, that burden us as we walk to school, to work, to take care of our daily errands. They’re those that we can’t seem to shake off no matter how hard we try, that are embedded in our circumstances. They trap us—whether it’s physically, mentally or both—in darkness. Until finally, against all odds, after what seems like an eternity, we see the light. We see the meaning to life, the purpose to battling those hard moments to arrive at the ones that make it worth it. Walking into the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, it’s not hard to envision these moments.

Despite the fact that none of us have been through the horrors and gut-wrenching experiences of the Holocaust’s victims, we can all find those parallels, those moments of darkness before the times of light. The museum’s Permanent Exhibition holds its largest and most comprehensive account covering every aspect of the Holocaust—from its earliest roots in the rise of the Nazi party in the early 30’s, to the Final Solution as the victims were led from ghettos to concentration camps to death marches, to the ultimate liberation of its survivors. My own visit led me to spend three hours in this particular exhibit, but its design allows visitors to go as in depth as they’d like or simply browse at their own pace. Upon arrival, guests are given an Identification Card—a small booklet with the information of a particular Holocaust victim. This is one of the museum’s most successful ways of appealing to the visitors’ humanity to tell its stories rather than merely stating historical facts in a distant fashion. Additionally, an exhibit entitled “Daniel’s Story” provides a child-friendly take on the events of the Holocaust and what they would’ve been like for a young boy named Daniel (I specifically remember this one from my first visit to the museum when I was about 10).

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But perhaps the museum’s most touching and effective way of telling these stories is through its weekly First Person Series. This particular series presents the testimonies of the Holocausts’ few survivors—told by the survivors themselves. As a writer, I tend to see the meaning behind every story, particularly the stories that can be told to teach a lesson to future generations or that help others looking for a sense of comfort in solidarity. This was undoubtedly one of the strongest, most powerful first-hand experiences that validated this outlook. It demonstrated the power of the word, and the purpose that these survivors found after losing everything and everyone they might’ve previously found happiness in.

On the particular day of my visit, I heard the story of Henry Greenbaum. Henry’s early years were spent in Poland, and at the age of 11 his family was squeezed into a ghetto. In the five years that followed, Henry was shuffled between labor and death camps including Auschwitz and Flossenbürg, and was ultimately sent on a death march towards Dachau before being liberated. His mother and five of his sisters were killed in varying degrees—illness, bullets, gas chambers. His escape attempt from a labor camp resulted in the death of his sister and a bullet wound to the back of his head. Yet Henry found the strength to keep going, to find the light at the end of the tunnel, to ultimately reunite with his few surviving sibling in America and begin a new life.

Holocaust Museum Washington DC Fabiola
PHOTO FABIOLA PEREZ

During Henry’s talk, he shared that what frustrates him the most today is not when people ask him very personal or difficult questions, but when they don’t take the time to listen to his story. In regards to this, it seems that the Holocaust Museum was almost built on Henry’s vision—the passion for making these stories heard in order to help prevent similar genocides. The passion to reach as many people as possible. By visiting the museum, you’ll not only be moved by the narratives told within its walls, but hopefully you’ll be moved to tell these narratives yourselves. To share these stories, and to help prevent injustice before it’s too late.

Fabiola Perez

Fabiola grew up in many places, including: Venezuela, Northern Virginia/Washington DC, and Hong Kong. As a traveler, she believes that while visiting major landmarks is essential, additionally seeking out the more traditional spots shows the true ambiance of the country.

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