I have fallen behind on my blog, so I have a lot to catch up on for the last 2 weeks. Going back to June, I took part in a capitol tour with the other USHMM interns. I was happy to have finally joined the party at the capitol. This summer I have met many people who are somehow connected to the Hill. I love the fact that the museum has set up enrichment activities for the interns. There are a lot of us, but everyone is spread out in the various divisions, floors, and buildings for the museum.
We are starting to get to know each other with another enrichment program, a lecture series with the head historian of the museum. So basically, on top of having spent 50+ hours in a classroom with Christopher Browning (THE Christopher Browning), I have now spent 7 hours with Peter Black, the guy who essentially builds and figures out how to present the history/story the museum wants to portray. We have 3 more of these 3 hour-long lectures to go, and I feel like I came in knowing nothing. The most valuable part of this experience is that Peter has really encouraged us to ask any and all questions that pop into our brains. There are so many misconceptions about the Holocaust, Hitler, Germans, etc., it’s great that we can ask about them to a guy who has already heard it all. An example of this was that Hitler’s grandmother was Jewish and that he had dark features. I certainly was confused about both ideas, but Peter explained the roots of the myth surrounding Hitler’s missing grandfather, and the falsehood of the myth. He also encouraged us to look at color pictures of Hitler, so that we could see that he had blue eyes and lighter/sandy brown hair. The intern that I spend my whole day crammed into a cubicle with, Sarah, accepted the challenge, and quickly found a picture that was striking.
Sarah and I were both speechless when we looked at this picture. There is a dog, Goebbels looking like an actual human being, full-color, a beautiful backdrop, and Hitler. It was a strong reminder that as far away and mythical as he seems, he was quite recently a normal human being, actually a perfectly mediocre artist. He wasn’t some sort of mythological monster, but rather an opportunist with evil intentions and powerful oratory skills. One who took advantage of a population’s desperation, fear, and festering frustrations. I think it’s a dangerous route when we make Hitler out to be some sort of demon from hell, because then it makes it seem much less possible to happen again. This picture was a reminder to me of this, as opposed to the regular pictures we see of Hitler screaming and looking demon-like. We shouldn’t forget that he somehow managed to convince a large percentage of the German population to trust him, after all.
I went to another First Person event this week with the Holocaust survivor Martin Weiss. He was deported to Auschwitz when he was 15 years old. Most likely he was too small to be kept for labor work, except for the fact that he was wearing 4 heavy layers of clothing that seem to have saved him. The section of the story that made him break down, along with the majority of the audience members, was when he described the selection and sorting process upon arrival at Auschwitz. He was selected for labor as well as his father and brother, but his mother and younger siblings were sent to the line that led to the gas chambers. He decided to join his mother and siblings in the other line in order to help them when they got into the camp. His father also thought it was a good idea, so he darted across the divide and tried to switch lines. A Kapo stopped him and shoved him back into the other line. At the time, he was really angry but after the war he realized how close he had come to marching into the chambers. A few more steps and he wouldn’t have lived to sit on the stage and shock the audience into appreciating the importance of the message of the museum. His full talk is on the museum’s website here.
Beyond work, I had a lovely Fourth of July in our nation’s capital. My sister, brother-in-law, and their friends came down to visit for the weekend. I was blown away by the fireworks on the National Mall. They certainly didn’t skimp on the number of them.
We also went kayaking on the Potomac River and visited the American Indian museum. It was a great weekend!
Beyond some minor (but actually major) frustrations with my mail service, my busy schedule, and my metro fare bill, I am doing really well. Loving this summer. I certainly couldn’t deal with genocide and the Holocaust constantly, but my job is shaping up to do more with logistics and the website than directly with the Holocaust. However, I am still working through Power’s A Problem from Hell, so that book is keeping my evenings light!