We created a museum. How many high-school classes have the opportunity to say that they constructed a museum from the ground up? Every year, the eleventh grade at the Jewish Educational Center’s Bruriah High School enacts a Holocaust Memorial Museum. This process is a tremendous undertaking for all involved, not only because of the physical effort it requires, but also because of the weighty significance it is meant to convey. As Museum Curator, I had the unique privilege to work with four incredible docents from each of four classes to consolidate a large variety of artwork, 3D models, and other assorted exhibits into a single cohesive whole.
The museum begins with the Treaty of Versailles, marking the official end of World War I. As world leaders gathered to sign the historic document, they all assumed that this would be the war to end all wars; never again would such a tragedy take place. But their hopes dissipated as the 1930s progressed. Our museum conveys the road to war, Hitler rising to power in Germany and crushing political oppression. We display the book burnings with a stack of tomes going up in cellophane flames. We transition to Kristallnacht with a mural of broken glass, a symbol of the first organized violence against German Jews. Then, a handmade railroad track leads visitors under a wire replica of the Auschwitz sign, ARBEIT MACHT FREI, and into the next section of the museum: World War II, soon to be known as the Holocaust.
Here we depict the crematoria, accompanied by the piles of clothes and shoes that documented the tremendous loss of human life. We shudder at a collage of Joseph Mengele’s twin victims and seek comfort in the presence of thriving Jewish twins in our own grade today. We see Anne Frank, the iconic symbol of the potential that was lost during the war, one of many lives terminated before it was truly lived. And we conclude with testimonies of the war, a reminder that we are all the same. The timing of one’s birth is arbitrary; this could easily have been us. A quote from survivor Elie Wiesel transitions into the Aftermath section, reading, “It all happened so fast. The ghetto. The deportation. The sealed cattle car. The fiery altar upon which the history of our people and the future of mankind were meant to be sacrificed.” With these words, Mr. Wiesel expresses the quick escalation of horror that led to the war and the indelible mark that the war has engraved upon history. After the terrible war came to a close, the world was left somewhat stymied. How would leaders of civilized society react to the perpetrators of the horrible crimes against humanity? We display the Nuremberg Trials, a systematic judgment of high-level Nazi criminals who were later condemned to hang. Some Nazis were jailed, locked away from the world that was struggling to reclaim its footing, and others walked free, escaping with their lives instead of accounting for the lives they had taken. Only years later did Israeli forces manage to locate escapee Adolf Eichmann and bring him to Jerusalem for trial. We commemorate this historic case with a model of Eichmann himself, enclosed in a protective “glass” box to prevent the premature vengeance of long-furious sufferers. With Eichmann’s eventual execution, the world patted itself on the back for eradicating the last dregs of evil and promised itself that such genocide could never reoccur. Yet our museum questions the so-called “never again” resolution with an expose of seven separate genocides that have transpired since the end of the Holocaust. The genocidal ideology is still at large, still able to corrupt those leaders who seek totalitarian supremacy. So we close the Aftermath section with a full-length mirror, adorned with the very same Jude star that graced the lapels of German Jews throughout the years of the Holocaust. This is our ultimate statement; in order to truly ensure that the Holocaust never happens again, in order to fully extirpate the tainted philosophy that drives mass genocide, we must consider the fight to be a personal battle. Each one of us carries the legacy of a Jew lost in the war. It is therefore incumbent upon us to accept the mantle of responsibility and ensure that “never again” becomes a reality.