As a third generation American, my life was not directly touched by the horrors of the Holocaust. I was one of the few children in my class to have 4 living grandparents as I grew up, and no direct relatives that perished during World War II. Perhaps because of this, I was always somewhat obsessed with learning about this period in our history, trying to imagine what life was like before the tide turned.
Walking through the Karkomi permanent exhibit at the museum, we are first exposed to what it was like for a Jew living in Germany in the early part of the 20th century. Pictures, ritual items and video explain that life for a typical Jew was quite ordinary, much as we live today in the U.S.
A hand-written decorated Rosh Hashanah card from a child to her parents was on display. It could have been sent by any of my children or even my grandchildren today. A graduation picture of a high school class could just as easily have been one of my mother or mother-in-law, except that they lived in the United States and not in Berlin. Everything I saw showed a vibrant community; living a life of Torah and purpose, not realizing what was about to come their way. As we looked at the exhibits, my husband turned to me and said,” We are here because our parents weren’t there.”
My day at the museum seemed filled with irony. The Nazis wanted to destroy us. The Hebrew Theological College, which co-sponsors the exhibit, is a vibrant Torah institution, entering its 9th decade of existence. The young men who attend its high school, beis medrash and kollel embody a life of Torah and yiras shamayim. It seems ironic that those who wanted to destroy us were themselves destroyed, and what they thought would be an exhibit to showcase the past in fact shows us instead a people with a past, present and future.