I went to the National Holocaust Museum today. My husband, mother (who is visiting) and my daughter went with me.
I was deeply affected by the exhibits, but there was something that disturbed me more.
The people there, I would say more than half that I witnessed, were unmoved. I wasn’t watching the expressions, of course. I would never get that. I observed the actions, the different muscles in faces that twitched or did not twitch. I watched their interactions, their reactions.
It frightened me.
I should not have heard laughter (even if it was minimal and not directed at the subject matter). I should not have seen people talking on their cell phones (even though it is explicitly communicated to visitors that cell phones are to be turned off).
There was no reverence.
The people looked at the exhibits, watched the videos and most of them looked as if they were watching the latest television program.
What happened then happens in different, lesser degrees, every day. It happens right here on American soil as well as overseas.
And tomorrow it could be any of us who is the next target.
One day it will happen again and Christians will be the ones tortured, maimed, abused and murdered.
And I don’t think that day is too far off. In fact, I know it isn’t.
The other day I talked about spiritual pollution. Well, this is the effect of another type of spiritual pollution. This is a spiritual pollution that desensitizes us to the horrors and atrocities of human suffering, particularly at the hands of others. We watch movies and even graphic news clips that depict the killing and torturing and abusing of others. Just like many other types of pollution in the environment, this pollution just becomes a part of the environment.
We watch; we take it in. At first it makes us flinch, maybe turns our stomach. But as time goes on and the pollution is allowed to continue its invasion, it seeps into our spirit, binding with it, becoming a part of it. Soon, what once made us flinch and turn away has no effect. We stop seeing the humanity and just see it all as make believe or a distant event with no impact. It is a flash, a moment in time that doesn’t touch us and we go about our lives forgetting that human beings are being treated in heinous ways, enduring evils that no moviemaker could replicate. And we are untouched.
I stood in a rail car that was on display. I could feel the anguish and terror. I thought about how I would feel in a crowded car with no food or water. If you listen and tune in, you can feel those people, every single one of them.
There is an exhibit there, though, that was so profound to me. It was shoes. Before the people were herded into the gas chamber, they had to disrobe. This exhibit was a collection of many of their shoes. I looked for a long time. You can tell so much by people’s shoes. There were men’s and women’s shoes, children’s shoes, elegant ladies’ shoes. These people came from all walks of life. You could tell by the shoes in that pile that some were dressed nicely, as if they were going somewhere nice, as if they had no idea what was ahead for them.
A shoe is an intimate garment. They protect a vital part of our bodies. I looked at each shoe and thought about the person who once belonged to it. I wondered what they thought as they prepared for the “shower” (a cruel ploy by the guards to get the Jews into the gas chambers). I wondered what they had endured prior to winding up in that spot. I wondered if they were there as a family or if they had been separated.
I wished I could just make it all go away, take it all back. I wish it had never happened and I can’t understand what would drive a person to do those things to human beings.
In the 1960’s Stanley Milgram of Yale conducted experiments concerning people’s obedience to authority figures. In one of the experiments, he had a subject push buttons that (the subject was told) would harm a person in another room (they could hear the person but could not see them). The subjects were instructed to push the buttons and most of them did, even when the person in the other room cried out in pain – even when that person “died” (pretended to die).
Milgram concluded that anyone could be a Nazi. He basically said that people will do whatever they are told to do, even if it violates their moral or ethical standards. Look up the “Milgram Experiment” and see for yourself.
One strong leader and many people will do whatever they are told.
That is how this started and we obviously haven’t learned enough to keep it from happening again. Sure, we got smarter, but the empathy, the compassion, the respect for human life has severely eroded. We traded knowledge for desensitization.
We’re still in the same place, we just changed the scenery.
You should walk out of there deeply affected. I was. Too many I saw didn’t seem to be affected at all.