The Shoe Room, The US Holocaust Museum and a Thought-Provoking Weekend in Washington, D.C
Those who know me know well enough (beyond my favorite Faxe beer) know that I'm a '80s baby - I won't say the exact year, though. And the biggest problem with being born in the 1980s is that the world is shrinking as fast as you're growing old. You're neither here nor there. Years are passing swiftly, and life is moving way too fast. Unlike the 90s generation, you can't take goofy selfies and post them on Facebook or Instagram without looking utterly dumb, and neither can you wear oversized tweed jackets and talk stock prices - that's a reserve for the '70s generation.
If you're a man and happen to be unfortunate enough to have been born in the 1980s, then you're most likely struggling to wade through the murky waters of quarter-life crises. At this stage, you would have naturally outgrown the recklessness of campus life, but at the same time still learning the ropes of being a sophisticated adult. And speaking of adulthood, it's an unwritten rule that every grown man worth his scruffy beard should own at least a pair or two of real good shoes. If not that, he should, at least, know his historical background, lineage and heritage. After all, what's a man (or woman) without a past?
Since I already own my fair share of Fendi shoes and Alexander Wang boots, I decided to make an effort to satisfy the second condition that defines the brink of manhood. A quest that later led me to the U.S Holocaust Museum.
To be clear, I just didn't pack up my bags and leave my native Kansas and booked a plane all the way to Washington D.C in search for my 'roots'. Rather, I happened to be there on business, and I had that 'Eureka' moment. So why not extend the trip for a day or two and take a detailed glimpse of my ancestor's dark past?
Now, one thing about the Holocaust Museum that I really appreciated was how organized and at the same time disheveled the entire place seemed to be. Confusing, right?
When I say “organized” I mean it in the sense that the permanent exhibit section is comprised of three floors - placed in chronological order as a matter of fact. And unlike other places of interest you can visit today (where the guide trails you like a Doberman on a restrained leash), the entire tour is unguided. There's no one to explain unnecessary details to you or keep asking you which state you're from—as if it even matters to them. You're left alone in peace to indulge and get lost in the horrific reminiscent of what can be termed easily as Europe's darkest years of the 20th Century.
So without wasting much time, I straightened my college jacket collar and stepped into the softly humming elevator. After a few minutes of awkward silence, punctuated by some excited babbling of two toddlers who were desperately clutching and tugging their mom's skirt, the familiar beam announced unceremoniously that it was time to plunge head-first into the dark recesses of my European Jewish ancestry.
Being your typical Sudoku-addicted guy, I started my exploration on the fourth floor. 4 is our lucky number. Ask any Sudoku enthusiast you come across!
The general theme here is the exponential rise and rise of the Nazis to power in the 1930s. And mind you, the representation of the ruthless manner by which the Nazis used to ascend to global superpower status is almost tangible. To be honest, I couldn't handle it any longer - especially considering that I lost some close family members in the infamous gas chambers of the Warsaw Ghetto. So I quickly descended to the third floor.
The atmosphere on the third floor was a bit relaxed. Mostly, it's more of a culmination of the war itself and how the American government of that time reacted. The greatest and most significant contribution was, of course, the collaboration in the invasion of Normandy. Remember the 82nd Airborne and all the World War II buffs? Great, all that is pinned here. But being a smart historian student back in High School, none of this was new or even exciting to me.
It's the second floor that left a lasting imprint on my mind. And you guessed it - there were miles upon miles of shoes. Baby shoes, new shoes, badly-worn shoes, old shoes, men's shoes, leather shoes, women's shoes, black cloth shoes, vintage shoes. You name it—a variety of footwear that you can’t find in stores like Macys and Finish Line. It's all here. In fact, it was as if the organizers of the museum chose to tell their story using ancient artefacts punctuated by acres of shoes. But why?
Shoes are arguably the most personal things we own in our brief human existence. Besides, there are a mark of modernity, progress, and more importantly, civilization. We only take off our shoes when we retire in bed after a long day of suffering ( read toiling ). Heck, most of us even die in our shoes. And God knows, only your shoes know your daily struggles. The same way, only the shoes belonging to the poor Jews exterminated in the Holocaust lived to tell the sad story. A good number of these relic pairs are in the Holocaust Museum in D.C. Now you know where to find them in case you need a brief reminder of how far we've come as a society.