One candle for millions
By Commentary by Senior Airman Racheal E. Watson, 460th Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published May 03, 2016
BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The doors opened and I am pushed inside with a large group of people. We were packed in so tight, I tried to make myself smaller just so I can have a few extra inches around me to breathe only to have what little space I was able to spare filled by another body. The doors closed and I could barely move. I only traveled up three floors in an elevator, but time seemed to stand still. The doors slid open and the smell of old worn leather was so overpowering it was almost nauseating.
One day each year is set aside to remember the heroism of the approximately 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust as a result of the actions carried out by Nazi Germany and its accessories. This year the Holocaust Remembrance Day, also known as Yom HaShoah, begins on the evening of May 4th and ends 24 hours later on May 5th.
Years ago when I was a young child I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. as a school field trip to get a better understanding of what my ancestors endured. Being packed in an elevator tighter than a sardine in a can for a few minutes was only a small taste of what millions suffered through during their treks to the concentration camps.
During the era of the Holocaust, German authorities targeted not only the Jewish community but other groups because they were perceived as inferior, to include Roma Gypsies, the disabled, some Slavic communities, Jehovah's Witnesses and homosexuals, while others were persecuted for their political beliefs.
Spanning three floors, there were wall-to-wall photographs from people of the past. I heard voices playing in the background recalling horrific things they underwent or saw their family and friends withstand. Then, the familiar sound of gunfire followed by distinct echo of lifeless bodies hitting the ground; the firing squad executing the inferior.
It felt like everywhere I turned there were either fearful eyes staring back at me or photographs of lifeless bodies discarded like piles of trash waiting either to be thrown into the flames of an incinerator or a mass grave.
The atmosphere lingered with feelings of fear and pain as I walked through each exhibit.
In the Holocaust Museum, overlooking the center of the museum, there is a glass wall with etched names in white. On the third floor, there it was; the name of my ancestors.
The overpowering feelings of sorrow and rage engulfed me to the point where a museum worker had to escort me out of the exhibit area. I only saw the third floor of the museum, which is the first floor of the exhibit after exiting the elevator.
I traveled back two other times after my school field trip to see if I could make it past that point in the museum, but even decades later it has been too soul crushing to push beyond that point.
Every year on the Holocaust Remembrance Day, I recall the feelings I had riding in the elevator and the all-consuming smell of the old worn leather when the doors opened only to think mankind needs to make sure all their deaths have posthumous meaning.