Today (sunday) F and I did something that we have been discussing doing for quite some time. We visited the Holocaust Center in Farmington Hills. While it was certainly not a "happy" visit, and I'm not even sure if it could be described as "good".... I absolutely consider it worthwhile.
I recommend visiting this museum to everyone even remotely nearby. It was very moving, and very well-done.
Initially we had been planning on going yesterday, but we were (at first) surprised to discover it was closed. Closed on a saturday? Then it clicked in and I said "Of course... it's the sabbath." Sunday turned out to be the perfect day to go though. It turns out that they offer free guided tours, and on sunday every tour culminates in a meeting with a Holocaust survivor.
The whole museum was painful but stirring. I read that Dwight Eisenhower, upon discovering the atrocities Germany was creating in the concentration camps, insisted that as much as possible be documented, photographed, and videoed. So that by remembering, we could keep such a thing from ever happening again. The memorial center is an attempt to help us do just that.
We went on a guided tour, which concluded with a presentation by a Mr. Weiss -- I believe his first name was William? Regardless, he was not just a amazing man with an amazing story, but a truly incredible speaker. He spoke with honesty and passion, and even though you could tell he had practiced and said all of these things hundreds of times before, it remained brutally real and engaging. He was 17 years old when he and most of his entire village in Czechoslovakia were sent to Auschwitz. When he finally returned home, there were only three people accompanying him. Neither of his parents made it.
One part that struck me was when he was talking about a factory he was supposed to work in, one that manufactured gasoline. It kept getting bombed, and he said they build that factory four times but never produced a cup of gasoline.
He said the second time it was bombed, "Inside working were some of my fellow... I keep getting myself in trouble here with words, because I keep wanting to say my fellow 'prisoners'. But these were innocent people! Here we were in camps, what we were doing here? Being treated like.... animals? If today you treat an animal like these human beings were treated, you would be put in jail."
He said a lot more, and only touched the edges of his story of course. When he was through, some people asked questions. One person asked him if he thought something like the holocaust could happen again. He said, "When I first started talking to people, many years ago, if you would ask me that, I would say 'no'. But today? Now I would say it could happen, yes. This is why I speak to you."
Somebody also asked him how he felt that some people today are trying to claim the holocaust did not really happen. This provoked the most impassioned part of his tale, and brought me to tears. After all, how could he feel? He was there. He lived through it, and he watched as many many people did not.
I can't even do a decent job of summarizing his words, nor bringing you there. All I can say is that it was stirring, incredibly painful, and I'm glad I went. I'm honored that I was able to listen to and meet this man.
They said (and I may have the numbers wrong, but I think the ballpark is correct), that there are about 1300 survivors still here in the Detroit area. And only about 40 of them are willing, or able, to talk about their experiences. As time goes by, I expect that number can only shrink. These stories are worth hearing.