Reflections on Agency, from the Holocaust Museum

I went to the Holocaust Museum here in D.C., and even though I have studied the Holocaust extensively in the past, I haven't been exposed to it in depth since I've been baptized. So much from the exhibits will never leave me as long as I live. As I gazed in horror at all of the displays, my horror was real. My sorrow was profound and overwhelming, and yet I couldn't cry. For some reason, I could not cry. I could only gaze with dismay as man's inhumanity to man continued to bombard me from all sides. I couldn't speak. I could not pray. I could only keep moving, my discomfort sitting quietly in my chest like a dull ache.

It was hard for me to see the pictures of the charred, broken, mud-coated corpses, and know that they were my Brothers and Sisters. It was even harder for me to look upon the calloused features of the SS and realize that they too are my spirit siblings. The hardest of all was to see Hitler, and accept that even he is my spirit brother. I found it more than easy to despise Hitler for all that he created on this earth. Even when his dictatorship was first taking hold, and he permitted his soldiers to humiliate German women by making them wear signs that read "I've defiled myself by marrying a Jew." And what amazed me was the film on Hitler's rise to power, because there were so many places where he should have failed! He should have never risen to power. So many times, he could have and should have been stopped, especially in light of the fact that he never won a single election!

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.
Elie Wiesel

We are the shoes, We are the last witnesses
We are shoes from grandchildren and grandfathers.
From Prague, Paris and Amsterdam
And because we are only made of fabric and leather
And not of blood and flesh,
Each one of us avoided the Hellfire
-Moses Schulstein, Yiddish poet

These are quotes from the exhibits that stand out especially in my memory. They made me question the true nature of humanity, and even the nature of God Himself.

What do we possess within us that motivates us to be so cruel? We're able to spare shoes, but not people? If we are children of our Heavenly Parents, made in Their image, then how do we even possess the potential to be so evil? Some would say Satan, and I would like to say that so easily. However, I've always wondered, even feared, that Satan is no more than a scapegoat, and lives in the cruelty buried deep in the bosom of humanity-- something inherent in our nature that can only be overcome with discipline, but is always there. . .

When I got to the Remembrance Room, the ache in my chest began to loosen. A high ceilinged room of marble, lined on the outer wall with candles. Against the far wall, a torch burns in memory of the victims. Near the ceiling around the room were scriptures from Bible:

Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons.
Deuteronomy 4:9

The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.
Genesis 4:10

For a moment, I forgot everything I knew about psychology, religion, even being a Mormon. I forgot myself. I forgot everything my formal education and experience had ever taught me about truth, and I asked, Why? Why would God allow His children to hurt each other this way?

But these are not the ways of God. These are the ways of Man. Without the gospel, or any variation of it, these are the things that are brought to pass.

We've been endowed with agency, which allows us to bring about any manner of horror! What a powerful gift we've been given from Our Father in Heaven, which makes me think He's trusting us. He's trusting us to do the right thing, which makes the Holocaust even more tragic.

We failed, utterly and completely, to do what has been expected of us all. And MILLIONS of people suffered and died as a result. His faith in us is both a miracle and a mistake in so many ways. It all comes back to choice-- we must choose this day, and each day, by which word we will be defined.
And so I prayed. I did not ask to be comforted, because what I had just witnessed was not supposed to make me feel comfortable.

I prayed for the dead; that they might have peace wherever they are now, and I prayed that I might be able to do what so many others refused to do when it mattered most: to act. I prayed for resolve, that we all might be a little more diligent to protecting each other. I prayed to remember what we all must learn. We are Brothers and Sisters in Christ! We are their Keepers! The worst and best we do unto them, we do unto God Himself!

The words CHOOSE THE RIGHT have never been so sacred. . .

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