By: Aliza Tick, Education Specialist –
The Holocaust was the state-sponsored, systematic persecution and genocide of European Jews by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945. In addition to the murder of approximately 6,000,000 Jews, millions more suffered grievous oppression and death under Nazi tyranny, including persons with disabilities, Poles, Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), gay men, Jehovah’s Witnesses, prisoners of war, and political dissidents. These numbers stagger the mind. We strain to appreciate its scale. How many football stadiums would 6,000,000 people fill? What percentage of the population was it? We can ask these questions, tabulate the answers, and still struggle to fathom what 6 million people means.
At the Holocaust Memorial Center, we fulfill our mission by translating the statistic of 6 million into individual stories. We talk about each individual as the person they were, with a face, a name, and a life. The victims of Nazi tyranny were degraded and dehumanized. Their lives were upturned and—in most cases—came to a tragic and terrible end. By emphasizing the importance of each individual, we restore their dignity and humanity.
This wedding ring was found at the Dachau Concentration Camp. All we can know about it is that it belonged to somebody there. Was it a man or a woman? Was it someone young and full of romance and dreams, or someone older full of wisdom and memories? Where did they come from? How did they get to Dachau? What was their fate? Whoever it was had been living a meaningful life – one with successes and failures and laughter and tears. A life not entirely different from yours or mine.
Each year, tens of thousands of Michigan students visit the Holocaust Memorial Center, and hundreds of teenagers from across the state enter our Art & Writing Competition. Thousands more of all ages have attended our programs and events, and have toured our exhibits. We have provided training and workshops for well over 1,000 Michigan teachers so that they can feel confident when teaching the Holocaust in their classrooms.
The Holocaust overwhelms our imaginations and our hearts. Many are moved to tears by its tragedy and horror. Such hatred and violence seems to defy human nature, and yet we know it happened. By sharing the stories of its victims and survivors, we hope our visitors will not only learn what happened in the Holocaust, but will also leave thinking about how events unfolded and why. We hope that visitors recall that each of the countless lives affected by those events—and those who caused them—had a name and a face and a family just like each of us. We hope this understanding will inspire and empower actions that will make our world today a better place.