Monday, June 15— The US Holocaust Memorial Museum
First, in Part 1 of Washington, DC I forgot to mention our entertainment for Saturday night, Capitol Steps. “The Capitol Steps began as a group of Senate staffers who set out to satirize the very people and places that employed them.” It is an excellent show, mocking very current events, and hilarious. We highly recommend it.
We started today with a tour of the Pentagon. It’s amazingly a city within a city, serving from 25-30,000 employees and visitors on any given day. Junior officers from each branch of the armed forces conduct the tour. Our guides were a male Marine and female Air Force officer. They came from a wide range of military service throughout the world, and spoke well of the duties and people of the Pentagon.
Honestly, you really don’t see much on the tour. It starts at the main entrance where everyone who enters passes by a touching memorial to 9/11. It then winds down hallways past various displays at a pace that prevents you from really taking in much of anything other than what the guides have to say. I get it. This is the Pentagon.
On the far side of the building we were allowed to roam through the indoor space dedicated to the 184 people killed on Sept. 11, 2001, at the very location where American Airlines Flight 77 from Dulles to LAX crashed into the building—at 9:37 am. The interior walls are made of polished fuselage metal, and the names of all those who died at the Pentagon—military Purple Heart and civilian Defense of Freedom Medal recipients—line the walls.
On the outside is the memorial, a very moving site with markers for each person, either in the building or on the plan, who died that terrible morning. We weren’t allowed to take pictures in or outside. I borrowed these from the defense department website. It’s just not possible to describe in words the impact the memorial had on me. You all will recall the phrase, “We will never forget.” I’m afraid, based on the current political and social climate in our country, many already have.
Yesterday we visited the US Holocaust Memorial Museum to view the premier of Anne Frank’s Holocaust. Lisa had made an effort before she flew out to get tickets for the self-guided tour of the museum, to no avail. While we were looking around the 20% of the museum anyone can enter, we met Jason. He was very nice and asked if we had tickets. When we said no, he asked if we were members of a few special groups, including the military, to which he could provide tickets on the spot. I said no, but told him I’d ridden my Harley over 6,000 miles to get here. He smiled, and handed us two tickets. So we came back today for the full tour.
When you enter the tour area on the first floor, you are told to pick up an identification card. You then enter an elevator that takes you to the top (fourth) floor of the building, where the tour begins with period of the Nazi Assault, 1933–1939. On the third floor you are exposed to the Final Solution (genocide), 1940–1945. The second floor covers the last chapter, and back on the first is a moving memorial.
The US Holocaust Memorial Museum is about people—the insane aggressors, the victims, the international leaders who, at least initially, turned their backs to the Final Solution, and the survivors. We all generally think of Auschwitz when we think of the Holocaust. That one, evil place tells only a fraction of the whole story. Anyone who has any interest in the realization of evil in this world has to visit this museum. The atrocities, many of which were hidden by our government and our media at the time, are nothing short of horrific.
The world, to a great extent, has “moved on” from the Holocaust, denying Nanking and subsequent acts of genocide in Armenia, Bangladesh, and Rwanda, like an enabler denies the addict his/her addiction. We want to live happily, so we paint ourselves, our country, and our world into a picture of a beautiful, happy dream. And we try desperately to live in that dream.
I needed some time for prayer, so it was fortuitous that we had planned to attend Choral Evensong at Washington National Cathedral, a celebration of the completion of the first phase of reconstruction following the August 23, 2011 earthquake that greatly surprised residents in this part of our country. Church dignitaries, contractors, benefactors, and especially laborers gathered to celebrate. It was an encouraging end to an otherwise emotionally challenging day.