Whenever a major event occurs and you have even a casual connection to the people or the place, it rekindles images and memories.
Last week, a hatemonger entered the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and opened fire, killing a security guard.
The Holocaust Museum memorializes the murders of 6 million Jews and the horrific treatment of those who somehow escaped death at the hands of the Nazis during World War II. It also creates a visual display of genocide in hopes it would never happen again, though it has in eastern Europe, Asia and Africa.
The museum is a solemn place, mostly quiet except for the shuffling of feet and an occasional gasp. Three floors, all about death and desperation.
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I visited the Holocaust Museum many years ago, and the memory lingers.
For two months early in 1998, I worked in McClatchy's D.C. bureau. Michael Doyle, who covers valley issues for McClatchy, had taken a year's leave of absence. I was one of several reporters who took turns filling in for him.
One afternoon, Doyle called just to say hello and to see how things were going. I mentioned I was going to the Holocaust Museum the next day. He suggested that I plan on doing something uplifting afterward, because it is an extremely emotional and heart-wrenching exhibit.
At that time -- the procedures might have since changed -- visitors buying their tickets were given a starting time in order to control the foot traffic through the museum.
Precisely on time, the elevator doors opened and all of us with 11 a.m. tickets filed in. It took us to the third floor to begin the tour. We worked our way, floor to floor, back down toward the lobby. Every group pretty much stayed together throughout the tour. My group included an elderly couple who spoke English through thick accents I guessed to be eastern European.
The photos and exhibits were indeed mind-numbing. The cruelty and suffering inflicted upon Holocaust victims was unfathomable. Photos of the death camps, the mass graves and emaciated Jews were as disturbing as anything I'd ever seen.
Other exhibits were more subtle, yet just as moving. One consisted of a large collection of shoes taken from the victims before they went to the showers and, ultimately, their deaths.
On the second floor, there were some photos showing a group of children in one of the camps. The same elderly couple behind me in line stood looking at them, and suddenly the gentleman started shaking and sobbing. As he pointed toward the photo, he began to lose his balance. His wife grabbed him by one arm. I took the other, and we eased him to a bench.
This man, the wife explained, had been one of the young boys in the photo. He began crying uncontrollably. The reporter in me wanted to hang around, hoping he'd tell me his story. How had he survived? But as the wife consoled and hugged her husband, it was clear he was in no mood to talk about it, and certainly not to me.
It was his moment to relive the pain, to hurt and to grieve for those in the photo who didn't survive or have since died. He certainly didn't need my intrusion.
I resumed the tour and finished it, moved by the experience and numbed by the moment.
And 11 years later, a man filled with the same kind of hate that led to the Holocaust reminded us why the museum is needed.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.