Sometimes, the Internet Makes Me Cry

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:

@Slate A Holocaust survivor, his daughter, and his grandchildren dance to “I Will Survive” at Auschwitz

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.

9 thoughts on “Sometimes, the Internet Makes Me Cry

  1. susan July 13, 2010 / 7:13 am

    Wow…that made me smile and cry at the sam time…so powerful…..

  2. Mom July 13, 2010 / 8:17 am

    That is simply beautiful. Sooo moving. Having been there & seen the horror & felt the spirits …. One can only imagine his emotions. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Sionna July 13, 2010 / 9:15 am

    Tears. But so beautiful and silly at the same time. Good for him!!

    This is second only to that one video at the museum about the couple who met during the Liberation. Even though I had a train to catch, and I cut it close, you implored me to wait and see it as it cycled through the other video diaries. It was so worth it. Everyone should visit this museum. It is horrible and beautiful all at the same time.

    I have one question though…were you able to let the survivor in despite the No More Passes?

  4. Anna July 13, 2010 / 10:54 am

    Thank you for sharing this link. I watched the other two “Dancing…” videos and what shocked me were the negative and nasty responses. Do people really not understand what it’s like to face what he did and be able to laugh in the face of it?! It was mind-boggling to read the comments!

  5. common loon July 13, 2010 / 11:00 am

    Wow (in a sad & happy way)! Thanks Sarah!

    Please do answer Sionna, as I had the same question?

  6. Sarah July 13, 2010 / 11:49 am

    @Shannon/Common Loon – Yes. Both survivors and liberators were – and I assume, still are – welcome at the USHMM at any time, no passes required.

    @Anna – I gave up very quickly on the YouTube comments because I had the same reaction at how nasty/uninformed – and in some cases, horribly bigoted – they were.

  7. Hillary July 13, 2010 / 11:50 am

    Wow! Thank’s for sharing it. I’m only sorry that my daughter isn’t home for me to share it with her now. She’d get it. She has asked to go to the the museum and I think I’ll take her soon. It’s so moving and important to share.

  8. ZenMonkey July 13, 2010 / 6:50 pm

    It is a very Jewish thing to “whistle past the graveyard,” or turn to humor in the darkest of times. There are compilations of jokes told in the camps (among my favorite being that Hitler was always referred to by a Jewish name, like Hymie). People who don’t see this video as a logical extension of that really don’t understand Jewish culture or what it means to be a Holocaust survivor, or a family member of one. I’ve avoided the comments but I feel pretty secure in making that statement. 😉

  9. Mom July 13, 2010 / 7:39 pm

    More thoughts….. Too bad the “commentors” [ignoramuses] cannot go to places like Birkenwald (where Eileen and I went) and walk the path of the people, go into and out of the “barracks” where people were warehoused both before and after death, and into and out of the ovens. That was a profoundly moving experience for me — just contemplating man’s inhumanity to other human beings. And, then going to the Holocaust Museum when Sarah worked there — indescribable. To see that man dancing with his children and children’s families — what a shining example he is to all of them and us!

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