10th and 11th graders are participating in a special program funded by Better Together which joins CTA students with senior citizen members of Project Ariel, a group from Jewish Family Services. The students traveled to the Illinois Holocaust Museum in late August to learn about interacting with their new Project Ariel friends. Following is a reflection from CTA 11th grader, Hannah Wolfson. The students will be documenting their experiences on their website:
The Illinois Holocaust Museum left me with one piercing question; are you a bystander or an up-stander?
On August 27, the tenth and eleventh graders went on a two-day trip to Chicago, Illinois to visit the Holocaust museum and get trained on how to appropriately speak to and interview the survivors in our community during our year-long program called Better Together. Not only was this an eye-opening experience, but it also generated in me a deep connection to the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust and I gained an understanding of the lives of the Jews at the time. They weren’t treated like human beings. They lived every day of their lives asking if it would be their last.
Although the museum is full of real artifacts and photos from that time, that’s not what hit me. What hit me was walking into a real train boxcar that was used to transport Jews to the concentration camps. The boxcar was wooden, cold, dark and had a bad smell to it. I could sense the fear of the Jews approaching death. I could hear the cries of the children. I felt as though I was in there with hundreds of other terrified Jews. They were stuck in boxcars just like the one I saw for days with no bathroom, no food or water, treated like animals. Innocent people lost their lives just because of their religion. Hitler solely identified them as “Jews,” but they were much more than that. They were human beings who had loved ones and hopes and dreams.
While we were walking through the museum, our tour guide continuously brought up the idea of being a bystander and how it ties into the Holocaust. The Jews were given a chance to leave and restart their lives before the concentration camps were established. However, most countries didn’t accept the Jews, leaving many with no place to go but to remain in Germany. Since few countries tried to stand up and stop him, Hitler felt as though he could progressively torture the Jews and there would be no consequences. The fact that few countries intervened only strengthened Hitler’s power. If they weren’t stopping him, they were helping him.
The Holocaust is in the past. Of course we must lament our brothers and sisters’ deaths. However, we can’t time-travel back into the time of the Holocaust and prevent it from ever occurring. It happened and there was a reason for its occurrence that only G-d knows. The only thing we have the power to do now is prevent it from ever happening again. By working on ourselves and our interaction with others, we can prevent a second holocaust. We must not watch anti-semitism rise until it’s too late. It is our responsibility to the six million Jews persecuted in the Holocaust, to protect ourselves and our future generations.
So, the question stands; are you a bystander or an up-stander?