Reflecting on the atrocities

Steven Harbaugh

Students travel to visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum

Dan Citrone, freshman politican science major, lights a candle in memory of a Holocaust victim in the hall of remembrace at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Credit: Steven Harbaugh

WASHINGTON — The silence is deafening. Not a soul speaks amid the stark black corridors displaying the artifacts of death — haunting images of unrestrained, unbridled hatred. The expressions on the spectators: solemn, forlorn and emotionally drained.

Yesterday, a total of 55 Kent State students and religious leaders were at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington as part of a trip organized by Kent Hillel and other local religious institutions.

A large room filled with shoes of exterminated prisoners was one of the most shocking exhibits to Megan Odell-Scott, senior political science major. The smell is gut-wrenching — something that sticks with the spectators throughout the exhibit.

The worn and tattered clothing of Holocaust survivors is what resonated most with Dan Citrone, freshman political science major and a Jewish student.

“Standing that close to something they wore every day, it was a little too real,” Citrone said.

The experience was eye-opening for Citrone, who said it made him realize he could have been in the same situation if he had been born into an earlier generation.

Close to home

The museum is especially vivid for Sarit Ratzaby, a member of the Israeli Council and a Hillel employee. She came to Kent State to educate the students about Israel and Judaism.

Ratzaby’s great-grandmother was incinerated at an Auschwitz death camp. Four of her great aunts survived the Holocaust — but only one remains alive today.

“She’s my last chance to know what happened,” Ratzaby said, adding that her aunt didn’t speak of the Holocaust until recently. Now, she has developed a heart condition that makes it difficult to share the traumatic events.

Ratzaby has visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum several times, as well as the Holocaust Museum in Israel. But it is still impossible to capture the horror, she said.

“The museum in Israel is more meaningful in my eyes,” she said. “Israelis feel an obligation to go. I don’t know any Israelis who haven’t been there.”

Shocked and appalled

The way bodies were treated after they were killed — shoveled by bulldozers and heaped into mass graves — really stuck with Nelle Roberts, freshman general studies major.

It was Roberts’ first time at the museum and one that has given her a more detailed education of the Holocaust.

“Before I just thought Nazis took Jews to a camp and made them work, only killing them if they weren’t productive,” she said.

Now, she realizes the Holocaust was a much more horrific experience.

Michelle Friedman, Jewish student life coordinator for Kent Hillel, described the museum as like nothing she has ever seen — an experience that transcends words.

Friedman, one of the main organizers of the trip, said she hopes students would leave Washington with a renewed sense of education and awareness of the intolerance people are capable of.

“How can anyone say this is a great museum?” Emily Minster, junior business management major and a Jewish student, asked. “This is a horrible museum.”

Minster, who recently came back from the Birthright Israel trip, said the museum had a tremendous impact on her. This is her second visit to the museum.

“This is an excellent documentation of the horrors that happened,” she said. “No matter how many times I go, it always hits me a different way.”

On the wall opposite two smoke-stained incinerators that sucked away millions of lives in the name of anti-Semitism, a quote from Jewish author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel is displayed. It seems to sum up the intensity of the experience: “Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my face forever.”

Contact religion and culture reporter Steven Harbaugh at [email protected].