For 51 weeks, more than a decade ago, I worked at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. My job was in visitor services, one of the only departments that spent most of the day inside the permanent exhibition, a three-floor lesson in inhumanity. When not in the exhibit, I answered questions at the information desk and handed out free, timed entrance passes. I doubt I will ever forget the first time looked up from behind the “no more passes for today” sign as an elderly man pushed up his sleeve to display a time-worn number tattooed on his forearm and said, “I can come in now, yes?”
He was, of course, not the only survivor I met working there; there were many among the volunteers who filled out our ranks, along with liberators and those who had been hidden as children. I learned their stories, and those told in the films in the exhibit, and those I read over the course of the almost-year I worked there – and there were many. I read voraciously about the Holocaust that year, seemingly everything I could get my hands on.
I haven’t read a book, gone to a movie, or watched a tv show about the Holocaust since I stopped working at the museum. I am so undone by the facts and upset by the trivialization of fiction that I cannot cope with taking any more of it in. And so, I have no idea what made me click on the link at the end of this post in my Twitter feed today:
But I did, and I sat at my desk watching as an elderly man danced before of the demons of his past – the Lodz & Terezin ghettos, a train depot, synagogues, the Thereisenstadt and Auschwitz camps – while wearing a shirt with just one word on it: Survivor. Dancing with him were proof of his triumph over the Nazis: the two generations of his family born since the Holocaust.
It is silly, it is beautiful, and it made me cry.