“Think about what you saw.”
Those are the words posted outside of the entrance to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. I can think of none more fitting. It’s one thing to know what happened, quite another to see it, yet still something else entirely to carry it with you in your heart and mind.
The full graphic implores visitors to think about what they’ve seen the next time they witness hatred, see injustice, or hear about genocide. Why do we need to be reminded to recall the experience? Because it’s so much more convenient to forget. We don’t have to feel accountable if we forget. We also don’t have to feel sad or discouraged. And perhaps, in our remembering we will be moved to act and intervene so that such things never happen again.
I was overwhelmed with emotion the moment my group stepped out of the elevator releasing us into the museum. Immediately before you is an image of charred and broken bodies surrounded by onlookers, or perhaps they were the culprits. It is an immediate jolt into the sobering world that you are about to explore.
Things only get more horrifying as you continue. There are recollections from Holocaust survivors, graphic videos, and shoes recovered from victims. Yet, as alarming as the things that you witness may be, the museum offers much more than shock value. It is a history lesson. It is a study of psychology and human behavior that forces visitors to examine themselves and society as a whole.
Another recurring theme is, “What you do matters.”
We tend to feel small. The issues that plague our society often feel so much bigger than us, and can be overwhelming. So much so that we don’t think that, as one person, our actions, or lack thereof, make much of a difference. It’s disheartening. We see division, hatred, discrimination, human rights violations—and worse, people attempting to justify such things. Yet, it’s on such a large scale, and often so far away from our daily lives that we don’t know what, if anything, can be done. We don’t know where to start, even if we were compelled to get involved somehow. So we don’t.
But that leads to this—the dehumanization, vilification, and ultimate annihilation of a people. Six million Jewish men, women, and children, as well as millions of others were killed during the Holocaust. All while the world watched. Imagine a different outcome if more people were able to let go of the innate need for self-preservation, took a stand, and demanded change. Imagine a different outcome if other countries were quicker to make what was happening in Germany their business, and more people thought they could do something impactful.
Start where you are. Be a kind human. Speak up and speak out. Stand with those that stand for something. Practice empathy. Remember that empathy does not require agreement. You can absolutely be sensitive to one’s circumstance without approving of or condoning the behavior that may have been the cause.
It may seem as though you are acting in a bubble, and your efforts are inconsequential. But if you can save, protect, or encourage even just one person, you’ve made a tremendous impact in this world. Plus, you never know who that person will grow to become, who they will in turn save, protect, or encourage.
Your actions are actually so much bigger than you that you should never feel small.
You don’t need to visit the Holocaust Museum to obtain a renewed outlook on life (Though it is recommended if you’re in the area). You can educate yourself on its atrocities. You can learn more about injustices happening around you. Engage in conversation with people who are different from you, and have traveled unfamiliar life paths. Then, think about what you have learned, seen, and heard the next time similar situations arise.
You matter, innately. Thus, so does what you do.