Students Impacted by Visit to U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Zyla Volkman
Students exploring the WW2 Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Chiara Brandstätter and Trisha Jimenez

On Friday, March 3, students who have taken the World War II and the Greatest Generation class along with members of the Diversity Club took a day trip to Washington D.C. to visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. This was the third visit to the museum by GM students in the past two years.  The trip was organized and led by Mr. Hager who teaches the WWII class.  He worked in conjunction with the Jewish Community Council who sponsors the trip and offsets much of its cost.

  After an early 5:30 a.m. departure and breakfast, Hager showed the movie “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” which tells the story of a Nazi extermination camp through the eyes of an 8 year old boy. He also explained to students why visiting the the museum is so essential. One day, the last Holocaust survivor will die, and who will live on to tell their tales?    

  When the bus arrived at Washington DC, students spent an hour or so walking around, sightseeing at the National Mall. Afterward, the group headed to the Holocaust museum.  From the outside the museum had a very modern and sleek exterior, but on the inside, the walls were brick and the building had a factory-like appearance.

   Before entry, all students had to go through airport-like security and metal detectors. They then were handed a passport of a real victim or survivor of the Holocaust which told the story of their life before the war.  Next students were taken in groups of 20 and brought into an industrial elevator which signified a gas chamber.  The elevator was overcrowded and its destination was unknown. This proved to be overwhelming for many students.

   There were many interesting and touching exhibits.  One that resonated with many students was titled, “Remember the Children: Daniel’s Story.”  Students could actually walk in a boy named Daniel’s house and see how he lived pre-war. The exhibit then showed how Daniel and his family went from the comfort of their home, to the ghetto, and from the ghetto to the concentration camps. Many people were also really touched by the large “Tower of Faces” that showed a wall full of pictures of Holocaust victims and their family members before the war. A room full of thousands of shoes confiscated from prisoners arriving at concentration camps caused jaws to drop. The tour ended at a large memorial room where candles were lit for the victims, and the soil from the concentration camps were placed in various places in honor of the victims.

    “I speak German, because I’m Austrian, so I was able to read the original text on the pictures, making the trip even more interesting for me.  It is shocking that things like that could happen not that long ago in my own country,” remarked exchange student Chiara Brandstatter.   

  The trip was very long, but well worth it in the end.  To show their gratitude for this once in a lifetime experience, students wrote letters of reflection to the Jewish Community Council to thank them for sponsoring it. “I learned a lot.  The museum was better than any history class,” concluded senior Zyla Volkman.