By Matt Baskir
Cold Spring Harbor High School, New York
Like young hatchlings forced to take flight prematurely, the children of the Holocaust were thrust into a cruel world, leaving behind their innocent, secure lives. They entered a world of depravation, isolation and overall horror.
Art by Jeff Rennert
Remember the Children is an exhibit at the U.S Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC, which presents a child's interpretation of the events leading up to his incarceration in a concentration camp. Unlike other displays in this museum, this one is arranged and presented in such a way that a child can relate to it. A child's diary is written on large, plastic sheets that children are encouraged to read and search for as they move through the exhibit. Signs and explanations are artfully arranged on desks and windows and in drawers and closets. This is an interactive, hands-on exhibit. As an educational tool, this exhibit presents the Holocaust so that a child can easily grasp its significance and horror at the same time. The following is a personal interpretation and review of Remember the Children: Daniel's Story.
Daniel's Story is a child's personal account of the Holocaust. This exhibit takes viewers into his town, his home, his exodus and life inside the ghetto by which one experiences Daniel's ordeal. Sample diary entries act as records.
Daniel lived in a modern, affluent house, which included his own room, a nice kitchen and various new appliances. He lived an exceptional life with modern sports equipment like skis and ice skates, and he had interests primarily in soccer, swimming and painting. Daniel desired to be a painter or a soccer player. His hero was his father who fought in WW I, attaining a medal for bravery which was special to Daniel.
In Daniel's January 20, 1933 diary entry, he remarks, "Things are changing...Nazis are taking over more and more...Some of my friends won't play with me because I'm Jewish. I feel awful." In his diary, soon after, he describes the acquisition of his parent's store by the Nazis, who regulate its upkeep which leads to its demise. He explains that his love for school is gone, because his teacher made fun of his Jewish heritage.
Daniel and his family are restricted from normal activities, which begins to worry his parents, and his parents describe, "We can't do anything." Identification cards begin to be distributed among the Jewish residents who are forced to change their names. With frightened words ("They burned our synagogue!"), Daniel describes how the German fire regiment and the Nazis took no action in taming the fire, and how his father wept in sorrow.
The Jews were only permitted to purchase things from shops for Jews which had "nothing good to buy." He tells how Jews were forbidden to go in public without wearing a yellow star. Daniel describes the loss of everything: his school, home and store. He continually questions why this is happening to him and asks what will become of him and his family. As we walk through the exhibit and read Daniel's diary entries, we are very sympathetic to his plight.
He is forced out of his home and sent to a faraway ghetto along with thousands of Jews. Daniel questions if he will see home again and whether he can escape the boundaries that enclose him in his place filled with "terrible things." He dislikes his absence from the outside world and continually sends messages to his friends, who fortunately respond to them. These letters served as bits of hope from the outside world which inspire Daniel to have an optimistic view.
He remarks that everyone is growing up, especially his sister Erika, due to the fact that everyone in the ghetto must work. The work has no benefits. Food is hard to come by, and what he receives is not enjoyed. He becomes aware of the existence of the concentration camps but is not yet forced to leave because of his father's heroic actions in the first World War. Time passes slowly, but Daniel soon learns that his largest fear is about to come true, "...they are taking us away."
Daniel describes the brutal passage inside the cattle-car, knowing of his inevitable destination: the concentration camp. Following this diary entry, the exhibit ends with a film describing his life after the cattle-car journey. His bags were confiscated along with his diary, photos, and his father's hallowed medal.
Upon arrival at the work compound, he was separated from his sister and his mother whom he later learned were murdered by the Nazis. Daniel feels that his life is now empty and that everything he loves has been taken away. He was given a number to replace his name and was forced to perform slave labor. Although his diary was confiscated and would never return to his possession, every word and experience remained alive in his head. Both he and his father survived and were reunited soon after liberation of the camp at the end of the war.
As a student, I have studied and read many personal Holocaust accounts of adults and some of children. None were presented in the fashion of Daniel's Story -- from which all people could learn by bringing their own experience to the exhibit. Merely reading an account can be powerful, but experiencing Daniel's Story, a child's story, can reveal something very sensitive and compelling.
The children of today must learn about the Holocaust. One and a half million innocent children were murdered by the Nazis, strongly affecting the lives of all, stripping inculpable children of life, and almost preventing growth of the Jewish people. For all children who were involved in the Holocaust, their story has to be told: "Remember my story. Remember the children."
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