D.C. Day One

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Outside the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Photo taken by me.

Today didn’t go as planned, but it was fantastic anyway. Our initial itinerary for today was go to Arlington Cemetery when it opened to see the changing of the guard and Kennedy’s grave, then go to the Holocaust Museum to see if we could get passes for the permanent exhibit for today. Based on what time our passes were for, we would visit either the American History Museum, the Spy Museum, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and the monuments and memorials in the National Mall.

What actually happened today. We woke up too late to go to Arlington Cemetery before the Holocaust Museum opened. We wanted to go the Holocaust Museum when it opened at 10am so we could be near the front of the line to receive passes. We ended up getting passes for 11am, so we stuck around and went through one of the special exhibitions called “Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration and Complicity in the Holocaust.” We only had about 45 minutes to explore this exhibition and it was not enough time to read and experience everything. My step-dad told me I wouldn’t be able to read everything while we were in D.C.; he turned out to be right. I was still disappointed. I wish we had more time here.

The Holocaust Museum was beyond words. My AP European History teacher in high school had gone into detail about World War II and the Holocaust, so I knew at least basics about almost everything in the main exhibition, but there was so much more I didn’t know. There was also the physical evidence like photos, videos, testimonies, belongings, and objects from that time. I was impressed with the technology and innovativeness of the Nazi Germans when it came to creating and organizing the census that they later used to persecute and murder millions. The organizing of the census itself was amazing. What they used it for, not so.

Notice how I used the term Nazi Germans. Meaning those that agreed with the ideology and actions of the Nazi party and actively contributed to those actions.

I have heard that for most people, the most chilling part of the Museum is the piles of actual shoes from victims of the concentration camps. When we went through it, only one side of the room had shoes in it, the under was under renovation and the shoes had been removed temporarily. I was definitely affected by the shoes. These were the shoes of men, women, young, old, grandfathers and grandmothers, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, cousins, rich, poor, etc. However, even with these thoughts, what really got me was the smell of the shoes. While I knew that these were the real shoes of real people who had been murdered, somehow it was the smell that proved that shoes were old and had possibly been on the feet of people as they were killed. I almost thought I could smell death from the shoes.

There were other segments that really affected me. One was the testimony of a survivor who recounted how her best friend who was a non-Jew, had turned against her, had lined up to ransack her home after her family was forced to move to a ghetto. The other segment was the Tower of Faces. The first time you walk through it, you walk along a bridge that goes through the middle. You look up, you look down, there are pictures of the Jews and non-Jews, together and separate, of the town of Eishishok. Three floors of photos on all four walls, surrounding you, telling the story of a small town in which there was peace, love, and community. These were real people. The last segment that affected me the most was a reconstruction of one of the train cars that the Jews and other groups that the Nazis hated were transported to concentration camps in. The cars were tiny, yet they squished 100 people into these things. None of my family could walk through, they thought it was too creepy. I was the only one who did because I didn’t want to imagine how cramped from the outside it might have been. I wanted to walk in and imagine 100 people squished into the car, so I would have a better understanding. I don’t think I will ever forget that feeling. It would have been worse if it had been an actual train car that had been used rather than a reproduction.

I choose not to post any pictures beyond the one I took outside the Museum. Part of the mission of the Museum is to “encourage its visitors to reflect upon the moral and spiritual questions raised by the events of the Holocaust as well as their own responsibilities as citizens of a democracy” (http://www.ushmm.org/information/about-the-museum/mission-statement). This is one place that just looking at pictures will not do it justice nor will the pictures encourage you to reflect.

I encourage you to visit and reflect.

I don’t mean to move on abruptly, but I am moving on to our next destination.

After a quick lunch at We, the Pizza, we went to the Library of Congress. I drooled over the amount of books and the architecture. My brother made a comment about how it was amazing that the builders of the Library of Congress were able to create a place so intricate and beautiful with the tools and technology of their time. I reminded him of how the ancient Greeks and Romans had had even more primitive technology than today and than the builders of the Library of Congress.

He was half right. Imagine creating floor and wall mosaics, pillars with intricate carvings, and statues with realistic quality with today’s technology. They would feel heartless. I love that the individual tiles in the mosaics are not perfectly aligned with one another. You can tell that a person actually did the labor.

We only got a glimpse of the main reading room as there were many people who wanted to see it and only one small section that overlooked it. The books were hidden behind arches that lined the walls.

Main Reading Room in the Library of Congress. Photo taken by me.
Main Reading Room in the Library of Congress. Photo taken by me.
Arches in Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress. Photo by me.
Arches in Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress. Photo by me.

I think my favorite part of the Library of Congress was Thomas Jefferson’s Library. Basically, the government bought Jefferson’s library after the original Library’s contents were burned by the British. The exhibit shows the actual books from his library.

Thomas Jefferson's Library at the Library of Congress. Photo by me.
Thomas Jefferson’s Library at the Library of Congress. Photo by me.
Information 1 about Thomas Jefferson's Library at the Library of Congress. Photo by me.
Information 1 about Thomas Jefferson’s Library at the Library of Congress. Photo by me.
Key to the Books: Thomas Jefferson's Library at the Library of Congress. Photo by me.
Key to the Books: Thomas Jefferson’s Library at the Library of Congress. Photo by me.

The International Spy Museum. Oh my gosh this place was awesome. I fully recommend going here. Unlike the Smithsonian Museums, the Spy Museum does have an admission fee, but it is worth it. The Museum is set up as if you are training to be a spy. You get a cover identity at the beginning and there are places throughout the Museum where you can test yourself to see if you remember your cover. The Museum covers the history of spying as well as the methods and tools used throughout history, as well as the new threats that we and the spies of today face. There is also a fantastic exhibit about the villains of  James Bond. Some segments included the actual props from some of the movies and interesting facts about the inspirations for some of the villains and henchmen and henchwomen.

I won’t post any photos for the Spy Museum either simply because I don’t want to spoil anything!

After the Spy Museum we walked around the National Mall to see the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. My step-dad said that every time he sees the White House, he always thinks it will be bigger and it reminds him of cake. I agree lol.

After the White House we went to the Lincoln Memorial. By this time the sunset was occurring, so the Monuments were lit up.

I stood in the same place that Martin Luther King Junior stood.
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Looking out from here was… amazing.

As I leaned against a pillar of the Lincoln Memorial and looked out at the Washington Monument and Reflecting Pool, I thought:

This is a time when a camera and a blog do not do life justice. The eveninhg air is calm, despite the tourists with their never ending chatter and flashing cameras, I feel reflective. The air wet and warm like after a rain storm, comforting. There is still a glow from the sunset framing the Washington Monument. A kid with a glow stick sparks me to imagine thousands of people gathered around the reflecting pool, silent, all with a glow stick or small candle. Just together.

We were going to visit the other monuments that night but we were all tired so we decided to visit the next day.

Overall it was an amazing day. My favorite part was definitely visiting the Lincoln Memorial at sunset. I was intrigued by the statue of Lincoln, it seemed as if he was looking down pensively. I wonder what he was thinking about.

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