I was 11 years old when I learned about the Holocaust. My long-term substitute teacher, Mrs. Cooke, introduced my class to the subject through novels and movies such as “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” and “The Devil’s Arithmetic”. Although the Holocaust was terrifying and disturbing to study as a child, it is one of the most important events in human history. Although sixth grade ended, my desire to gain more knowledge about the devastation increased as I left elementary school. The book “Sarah’s Key” captured my heart and tore it to shreds. The genocide of millions of innocent people brought about a new passion in my soul- one to help educate and advocate so that gut-wrenching events such as this will never happen again.
On a trip to the East Coast during the summer after sixth grade, I begged my parents to take me to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. Witnessing real life mementos and stories of those who lost their lives was extremely disturbing, but necessary. I had to touch the shoes of the children, see the framed faces of those long gone, hear the brutally painful stories during their time in the camps. Before we left, I stopped in the bookstore and picked up the book “Night” by Elie Wiesel. The thin memoir didn’t look like much, but it sounded important so I read it. Whereas most novels bored me to death, “Night” opened my eyes to the horrors of it all. Wiesel documented his everyday life in the Auschwitz camp where he was separated from his mother and sister and forced to watch his father die a slow death. He was a young boy when he was taken from his home in Romania and forced to work in the Nazi death camps, but his strength prolonged his life through liberation in 1945. Wiesel’s non-fiction account of his experiences broke my heart and left me pondering the same thought he had: “where was God at Auschwitz?” Even after he lost every member of his family, Wiesel survived and lived until the age of 87. The last years of his life were spent advocating justice and peace in the world as well as teaching and practicing political activism. Mr. Wiesel’s life changed mine and taught me how to stand up against indifference and silence. We may never see a writer, activist, or teacher as great as him ever again.