visit to the holocaust museum

After visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC last week, I was left with some thoughts about the museum and the people who were lost.

My overall impression was that the museum did a good job of emphasizing that above all, these were people like the rest of us that were lost during the Holocaust. They humanized the tragedy in a way I had never thought of before. A wall of pictures showed family portraits, candid photos, and people going about their daily lives; it was only later you found out their fate, and it was not good.

The numbers are overwhelming. 500. 2,000. 10,000. 30,000. 200,000. 2.2 million. 6 million. It is unfathomable how that many people could be murdered in the space of 6 or 7 years. The ruthless efficiency of the German soldiers and camps is mind-boggling. I don’t think most people realize how many people were killed outside the death camps. The videos and first-hand accounts of Allied soldiers at the time of liberation are appalling, but still important to see.

The rise of Hitler and the Nazis was the catalyst for the war and the Holocaust, but there was an underlying current of anti-Semitism that allowed the Nazis blame Germany’s problems on Jews and Communists. Somehow Hitler was able to conflate the two groups into a single menace, and the people bought the rhetoric. Once the Nazis were in power, they started taking away the civil liberties of the Jews, and the German people were mostly okay with it. However once the war began and the Nazis started killing Jews, it was too late for the people to stop the dictatorship from doing so.

Among the visitors in the museum were several groups of middle school kids. We had seen school groups at the other museums and thought they would be disruptive and inattentive, but they were almost entirely respectful and behaved appropriately. I think they sensed the serious nature of the displays and were just as affected as the adult visitors. There was also a Hasidic Jewish family, speaking to each other in Hebrew, taking in the exhibits like everyone else. If it were possible, I wondered how it might feel to have this enormous burden of history placed on my ethnic history. They seemed to be disappointed the the prayer hall was closed, as we were there at the closing of the museum.

If you haven’t visited the museum, I won’t go into specifics about the displays, but the entire museum was very emotional. It really brings home the fact that there were people there, and then there were not, multiplied six million times. As a human race we must do everything possible to prevent something similar from happening again … but are we?

Ethnic cleansing and genocide has been part of the human experience since the beginning of humanity, and it continues to this day. Cambodia in the 1970s, the former Yugoslavian countries and Rwanda in the 1990s, and Myanmar and Syria at the present time. These instances may not compare in scale to the Jewish Holocaust, but the victims are still persecuted, deprived of their rights, forcibly removed from their homes, or murdered. Part of the mission of the Holocaust Museum is to monitor and raise awareness of current examples of genocide and ethnic cleansing. Their website is here.

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the body

somber, leaden clouds
cardinal in the snow
target found in a hail
of deadly fire, loud
a corpse buried, below
food for worm and snail

tool

use me
then discard me

it’s okay
I have no purpose in life
but to serve you

use me
then drop me

I’ll understand
I’m just a wrench
and you need your nuts tightened

use me
then abuse me

it won’t hurt
when you break me
and find something new

use me
then leave me

I’ll be alright
someone else will need a tool
and I’ll be there, waiting

black flowers

black flowers, leaves of grey
fading away like love’s desire
a cold dying fire

black flowers’ deathly bloom
saving no room for warmth and light
losing the will to fight

black flower’s frozen heart
missing the part that cares and loves
shunning the life from above

black flowers, frozen in death
refusing the breath of the goddess
lost in the darkness

(2015)

crows in the snow

black feathers
black as sin
reflecting the darkness within

white flakes
driven snow
covering the world as it goes

the bird sits silent
refusing to sing
drifting snow covers his wings

weighing him down
he cannot fly
a crow doesn’t think to wonder why

he shakes his wings
the snow falls free
raucous brethren call from a tree

they fly through the sky
avoiding the snow
cawing and calling as they go

black feathers, white flakes
clouds of grey
another long winter’s day

(2017)

perfect

Tim parked his car and turned off the key. He sat for a moment in the small parking area and listened to the ticking of the cooling engine, then relaxed as the sound of the ocean began to sooth his tired mind. He had been looking forward to this hike all day.

He had been to this beach before, but always with friends to party or light an illegal bonfire. This time he planned on simply walking the beach to clear his mind and think about the next step in his life. He planned on hiking to the next parking lot about 6 miles north, then he would hitch a ride with someone back to his car.

“Goddamn developer scum,” he muttered to himself, thinking about his day at work. He was burned out on the consulting world, and he was starting to look for work in some other field just to soothe his battered conscience. As he left the gravel lot and set out on the beach trail, he gently reminded himself to stop thinking about his so-called career and enjoy the scenery around him.

===

It was about an hour later that he noticed something far ahead. There was a dark shape on the smooth sand at the point where the tide had receded earlier in the day. It was difficult to tell what the shape might be from that distance, as the mist from the breaking waves made it hard to see clearly. Patience, he thought, you will be there in a little while.

Tim was a few hundred yards away when he realized the object was not just a piece of kelp or driftwood. The shape had a definite substance to it, and it didn’t look like a dead seal. As he walked a little closer, a terrible thought suddenly dawned on him. It was a body, a dead person.

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regrets

if leaves were regrets,

the trees would have no recollection of their
springtime transgressions

as their memories float away
in the autumn breeze.

but me,
I just can’t seem to let mine go

and I hold on to my regrets
deep into the winter’s night.

(image credit: unknown)

(2016)

ghost town

escaping the clouds as the plane descends
toward my hometown by the western shore
nothing here to mourn, no way to make amends
no one meets me at the airport anymore

drifting through the crumbling buildings
blankets of fog shroud a concrete tomb
ashen streets filled with broken spirits
wandering through the rain and gloom

places once explored, friends since lost
childhood memories turn to haze
conveniently discarding, not counting costs
forgetting those whose souls I couldn’t raise

the lonely disembodied search the city each day
kicking through the ashes of everything I burned
ghosts surround the graveyard, pausing there to pray
in futile expectation that the living will return

pointless hope becomes despair
their dying souls reject the sun
the spirits vanish into liquid air
haunting days are finally done

(2010)

staples, a love story

Sure, Edward Scissorhands got all the attention, what with the topiary sculptures and the hairdressing skills. Life was more mundane for Edward’s less-interesting cousin, Jim Staplerfingers. Jim worked in a non-descript office building in suburban Indianapolis, and while he wasn’t invited to many parties, he was an office mainstay when it came time to bind expense reports. Collating and stapling was not very fulfilling for Jim however; he was frustrated at his co-workers’ nonchalance about the proper alignment of the staples in their documents, and he was tired of always being asked to put up flyers on the bulletin board. He had a hard time letting go of things, whether figuratively (his feelings of loneliness and inadequacy) or literally (putting down the Sunday paper was especially difficult).

Life changed quickly for Jim Staplerfingers when he met his soulmate one day in Office Depot. Katie Stapleremoverteeth worked in as a clerical assistant in the next office building, and when they came face-to-face amidst the aisles of office supplies, they fell in love immediately. Physical intimacy was understandably problematic, but they were young and creative, and with practice they minimized injury to their erogenous zones. Eventually they had a perfectly normal child with no obvious office-supply-related birth defects besides a penchant for chewing on sticky notes. Uncle Edward cut the umbilical cord.

cold coffee

coffee’s cold again
although I miss the point
of heating it up once more
there’s no more left to pour

thoughts are disjointed
accusations pointed
as we sit upon the floor

future seems uncertain
look behind the curtain
to see there’s no one running the show

it’s up to us to decide
if love wins out, or pride,
and which of us will choose to go

rain streaming down,
it seems to want to drown
the feelings lost today

there’s no more debate
I’m resigned to my fate
as I watch you go away

 

(2017)