Ashley Sisk is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh, majoring in Political Science and Economics, along with a Global Studies Certificate. She is a First Year Mentor at Pitt, Secretary General for the Pitt Model UN, a brother in the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, and an ambassador for the Outside the Classroom Curriculum program. One would assume that any morning spent discussing the Holocaust, let alone visiting Israel’s Yad Vashem museum, could only result in a day weighed down by an incalculable, haunting sorrow. I expected my first full day in Jerusalem to be heavy, introspective, and tearful. But, not for the first or last time in the two weeks I spent on Israel Uncovered, I was grateful to leave my expectations state-side. When we stepped off of the bus, I was struck by the serene quiet of the lush, green grounds, including tree-lined path, dedicated not to those persecuted millions, but to those who risked everything to help them, those known as the Righteous Among the Nations. Once inside the concrete building whose long corridor peaks along the center, I could not see beyond the glass wall a few hundred feet away. Something forced the serenity out of me; there were no more trees, no more green, only narrow, cold hallways. As I zig-zagged through the crowded museum, there were photos, and videos, and written wishes and letters of despair, grounding sorrow and matching it to faces, and voices, and individuals.
To Edwin Landau, who woke up after 43 years of being German to find he “could no longer be German.” To a Dutch woman, who never saw her mother again after the latter hid her in a closet with her sister before their apartment could be searched. And to Abramek Koplow, who wrote “When I grow up and get to be twenty I’ll travel and see this world of plenty. In a bird with an engine I’ll sit myself down, take off and fly into space, far above the ground. I’ll fly, I’ll cruise and soar up high above a world so lovely into the sky.” Abramek died in Auschwitz six years shy of 20.
But, at last, those glass doors at the other end of the cold building eventually came into sight. And through those doors was a magnificent vista overlooking deep green hills freckled with buildings of Jerusalem stone, set against the day’s warm, cerulean sky. The serenity returned. The faces and voices and words of the past few hours were not forgotten; as long as I have memories, they will be there. But it was behind us as we exited the long, concrete building. Because everything in front of us was bright, and colorful, and full of life.