As I planned my trip to Maryland for my grandparents’ 75 anniversary party last month, I knew I wanted to spend at least one day touring museums in Washington D.C. I had really enjoyed my visit to the National Gallery of Art last fall (see My Photos at the National Gallery of Art and My Photos of Biblical Art at the National Gallery) , and wanted to again take advantage of the fact that I wouldn’t have all of my kids around to distract me.
While reading the news on-line, I had seen the story about the recent fatal shooting of a guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum by a rabid racist, and remembered that I had wanted to go there someday. My daughter Mary and her husband Ryan, who worship in a messianic (Christian) synagogue, had been there last year and recommended it. It’s not exactly a place to bring young children, so it seemed a good choice for this trip. For the afternoon, I also settled on the Freer & Sackler galleries of Asian art, which are part of the Smithsonian Museum system.
I invited my relatives to join me for my “Museum Day in D.C.” and my sister-in-law Dana, my sister Barb, and my niece Amy took me up on it. (Barb and Amy opted out of the holocaust museum and went to the National Gallery of Art instead.) We got a late start that morning, so we didn’t get off the Metro train until 11 AM. Dana and I headed to the holocaust museum, and picked up our free tickets with 12:45 appointment time to enter the main exhibits. Until then, we walked through an exhibit on propaganda and then Daniel’s Story, a hands-on tour appropriate for ages 8 and up. It follows the story of one boy from his normal life in a comfortable home up through surviving a concentration camp. Then we stopped for matzoh ball soup and knishes in the café before our appointment. The main exhibit starts on the 4th floor with the Nazi assault in 1933-1939, covering the themes of totalitarianism, prejudice and persecution. The 3rd floor addresses “The Final Solution” in 1940-1945, which unfortunately meant mass murder of six million Jews, or two-thirds of the Jewish population of prewar Europe. The 2nd floor, “The Last Chapter” chronicles the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, the Allied victory, rescue and resistance efforts, and the aftermath of the holocaust. Other rooms address the genocides of Sudan and Rwanda, and exhort visitors to take a stand and do something about modern day oppression and genocide. Unfortunately, we had only about an hour to go through what could have taken three times that long, so we didn’t stop to watch all of the videos, listen in the audio booths, or thoroughly read every display. Still, it was a rather sobering experience to witness, at least vicariously, all of the death and suffering that could have been prevented if more noble citizens had taken a firm and early stand against Hitler’s schemes. As Jimmy Carter said, “Out of our memory… of the holocaust, we must forge an unshakable oath with all civilized people that never again will the world… stand silent. Never again will the world... fail to act in time to prevent this terrible crime of genocide… We must harness the outrage of our own memories to stamp out oppression wherever it exists. We must understand that human rights and human dignity are indivisible.” (As I type this, three of my kids are watching Amazing Grace, a movie about William Wilberforce, who worked so tirelessly to abolish slavery in the British commonwealth. I have always sought to educate my children and co-op about justice issues, especially the holocaust and slavery. Click here to read an excerpt from my book The Real Life Home School Mom about how I attempt to educate my students for “Justice and Mercy”). I don’t have time to more fully develop or share my thoughts on the holocaust, but I encourage you to explore the museum’s web site, http://www.ushmm.org/, which has plenty of information, photos, and videos. You can also read the latter portion of my blog post, Do Cry, which lists several related books and videos. You may also be interested in a blog post by Tim Challies called Death Is No Escape about God’s ultimate judgment on Nazi injustice. Someday soon I plan to visit our local holocaust museum in Maitland, Florida. I am also asking a new friend, whose parents were survivors, to come and speak in my co-op English class when we discuss the story of Esther, who rescued her generation of Jews from Haman’s evil plans.
After the holocaust museum, Dana and I met Barb and Amy at the Sackler Gallery, which is connected to the Freer. They were all pretty exhausted by then and kept joking about my Energizer Bunny endurance (which I must attribute to working out on the treadmill and arc machine at the YMCA). Anyway, I ended up walking through most of the Freer & Sackler rooms by myself, quickly taking pictures of anything that looked interesting, along with the captions.
Tsars and the East: Gifts from Turkey and Iran in The Moscow Kremlin, one of the special exhibits, reminded me that most of us tend to think of Iran only as a place of ugly violence, rather than a rich culture of art, literature, and ancient history.
The household pottery on display is testimony to the fact that much of art is designed to beautify our daily tasks, while the calligraphy shows that even the written word can be visually pleasing. There were many ritual objects and idols on display as well, but somehow I cannot imagine bowing down to a stone elephant when instead I can worship the majestic and merciful creator of everything in the universe.
You can see my other art museum photographs here: A Day in D.C.: Holocaust Museum, Asian Art, Metro Crash.
We finally boarded the subway home around 4:15. Tragically, about 10 minutes after we got off our train, there was a fatal Metro Rail crash near a station we had just passed through, on a route I had originally planned to ride on that morning. (It was inbound, and we were outbound, but still it could have been any of the trains.) Again, I was sobered to think about mortality, and reminded that we could always be just one heartbeat away from eternity, just as those seven precious people unknowingly were. As soon as I heard the news of the crash, I called my husband Thad to assure him that we were all right. By the time I got back to my mom’s house later, I already had a message on Facebook from a concerned cousin wanting to make sure we weren’t on the train. (Thanks, Denise, for your care and friendship!)
I’m just grateful that I was alive and well enough to enjoy the feast that my Aunt Barbara treated us to at a Chinese restaurant she had picked for the evening. After my Asian art experience of the day, it seemed fitting to top it off with wanton soup, sesame chicken, and fried rice.
What is the point of this post? There are several: Go out and broaden your horizons! Don’t be afraid to face injustice! Savor beauty and creativity where you can find it! And don’t take life for granted!