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Holocaust Museum Visit

alec vanderboom

Tomorrow morning my Women of Prayer group will visit the Holocaust Museum together. We are taking along Father Avelino and will celebrate Mass together at St. Peter's in Downtown D.C. I'm excited and a little nervous.

The Holocaust Museum always stirs up deep feelings for me.

I first took my daughter to the Children's Exhibit (Daniel's Story) when she was 2. I don't let my kids wander freely in this museum, but the children's area is a beautiful, sensitive and age appropriate space. My husband's Jewish last name goes back to one of the original twelve tribes of Israel. I figure it's never too soon to be teaching the "no anti-Semitism" thing to my little Benjaminites.

Hannah took her first visit in stride. "It's not fair that they didn't let the (Jewish) children eat their favorite cake" she said at the recreation of the 1930s German street exhibit as she pressed a nose against a tempting German Bakery display with a giant "No Jews Allowed" sign. The yellow stars and the Jewish ghetto life with rotten turnip soup didn't make an impression on her two year old brain. The "no buying cake" rule did.

I tried to hurry her past the concentration camp part of the exhibit, but she was affected by the dim blue lights and the barbed wire fence. "Mom, they put people in cages here like they were animals at the zoo!"

I knelt down to my 2 year old in her double stroller seat and had one of the most dramatic conversations in my life.

"Hannie, the Nazi soldiers did lock little children up in cages. They did treat them like they were animals in the zoo."

(Thankfully, the "Daniel's sister ending up as wreaths of smoke" is absent from the child friendly movie that played overhead. So I could easily skip over the most horrid part.)

"That was a great evil. But there were good people in the world at that time, like your great-grandfather George. He went over to Germany and told the Nazi's they had to stop. Great-grandpa George and our army won. They stopped the Nazis and let all the children out."

It was a simple conversation. We lived with Hannah's Great-Grandfather at the time, so she knew him well.

Sitting in that darken room, however, it just hit me what a miracle it was that my Grandfather and Hannah's Great-Grandfather fought in the Battle of Normandy, and that he survived, and came home to have my Mom in 1946. I had a glimpse of what would have happened if WWII hadn't turned out the inevitable way it had in the pages of my history textbooks.

I went home and wrote a meaningful letter of thanks to my maternal Grandfather.

On our second trip to the Holocaust Museum, Hannah was four and newly in her CCD class. As we pass through the museum on our way get a much needed lunch break, Hannah said "I know why the Nazis were bad soldiers Mom."

"Huh? I said as I pushed a stroller with a newborn and pulled 2 lagging walkers behind me.

"The Nazis listened to the clever snake, Mom. They listened to the clever snake!"

The clever snake was Hannah's name for the clever serpent which tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. She's learned this on day one of her CCD class.

I thought her statement ranked as one of the most profound insights into history.

"Why did the Holocaust happen?" Such an angst ridden question that resounds through history. "Because the soldiers listened to the clever snake."

My latest visit to the Holocaust Museum occurred on October 31, 2008, All Hallow's Eve and a few days before the Presidential Election. We stopped in downtown D.C. to stock up on free science labs from the Smokey the Bear exhibit at the National Forestry Office. This fun, interactive exhibit is next door to the Holocaust Museum.

Instead of the somber, sullen feeling from the museum's bleak exterior, in October I entered the building with an uplifted heart. I'd just started the Carmelite formation. I just learned about Edith Stein, a Jewish convert to Catholicism who was pulled out of her Carmelite convent by the Nazis and sent to die.

"We were here!" I kept thinking. Even in this dark, awful time, there were Catholic martyrs for the faith.

At the Daniel exhibit, my feeling of peace grew. "This must have looked like our dear Pope Benedict's house" I thought, looking around at the early 1930's boyhood German home exhibit. I kept trying to dismiss this happy feeling and instead focus on the exhibits mention of Krystalnaucht, and growing Jewish tension. Yet I felt the comfortable hands of our Pope and his dear friend Pope John Paul. These two Catholic men experienced this event. They were heartbroken about the treatment and loss of their Jewish friends. This terrible event didn't occur "outside of human history", it didn't prove that "God was dead." Instead, these external tragedy shaped the deep inner faith of two of my favorite Catholic leaders in history.

In a weird way and for the first time ever, I felt love all through the Daniel's Story exhibit instead of fear and hatred.

Then I got to the end.

The children's exhibit ends with a place of reflection where you can send a post card to the fictitious "Daniel" from Daniel's Story. Usually, the inviting velvet chairs, friendly post office box, and warm lighting are a relief.

This time I felt a strong hit of bile.

Along the walls were children and adults messages who had traveled this exhibit before me. "NEVER AGAIN!" "How could this happen?" "I wish you lived in America, Daniel. This terrible thing would never happen in America."

I stood reading these messages, five days before the Presidential Election and felt my stomach turn green with bile.

How could all of these outraged visitors miss the current connection with abortion?

Here were all these people, completely disgusted with the Holocaust and meanwhile they refuse to make the obvious parallel with disregarding the moral issue of the 21 century. These same parents were going to vote for a new President in five days.

That visit left me emotional. It left me praying my rosary for hours around the Mall afterwards. The pro-life ticket didn't win of course on November 4, which left me sad and numb for several hours.

If Our Blessed Mother were alive in Germany in 1942, she would have been packed off to a concentration camp. In America in 2009, some nosy neighbor would have advised this unwed teenage mother to have an abortion.

When my husband and I went to our local abortion mill to pray on Christmas Eve, we found it open, with the TV flickering on in the waiting room. On Christmas Eve!

The best weapon we have against evil is prayer.

Mother Theresa said that if everyone in America spent one hour in Adoration a week, abortion would end instantly. There is such a strong correlation between seeing the "hidden" Jesus in the host and seeing the 'hidden' human person in the womb.

Let us commit to ridding ourselves of "listening to the clever snake" in our own hearts this year. On January 22, the day of the March for Life, let's pray hard as a nation that the seductive lies of the clever snake get out of the hearts of our beloved countrymen as well.