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Star Spangled 4th of July for BISS Students at GYLC

08 July 2014

Giant flags of red, white and blue draped the whole of Washington DC. We started off our day with everyone buzzing with excitement as we got to celebrate the commemoration of the Declaration of Independence in Washington DC itself! (What fabulous timing).

A short bus trip and a long walk down Constitution Avenue (which included the group splitting up and some of us getting lost amidst the celebrations) we managed to catch glimpses of the extravagant 4th of July parade.  A showcase of exotic floats, expensive sports car, dancers, horses, marching bands and carriages took the street of Constitution Avenue.

The Smithsonian (our first museum stop of the day) consists of 19 museums and is hailed to be the world’s largest museum and research complex. Since we spent our intended museum time watching the 4th of July festivities, our museum time was cut short. I headed to the Museum of Natural History. My first stop in the museum was the National Fossil Hall (which was unfortunately under renovations until 2019). We managed to get a quick photo of the only dinosaur in the room at the moment before moving on to the Mummies section and then the Ocean Hall. The Sant Ocean hall is extraordinary in scale and presents the global ocean from a cross-disciplinary perspective, highlighting the biological, geological and anthropological expertise and scientific collections of the museum, as well as the ongoing research in marine science. The ocean is intrinsically connected to other global systems and to our daily lives; seeing this display highlighted the importance of saving our world’s oceans. We then took a short walk to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The Holocaust Museum provides documentation, study and artifacts of Holocaust history. It is dedicated to helping leaders and citizens of the world combat and confront hatred, prevent genocide and promote human dignity. The Holocaust Museum’s collections contains more than 12,750 artifacts, 49 million pages of archival documentation, 80,000 historical photographs, 200,000 registered survivors, 1000 hours of archival footage, 84,000 library items and 9,000 oral history testimonies. Each exhibit was breathtaking, heart wrenching and honest.

Visitors frequently report that the sight and smell of the 4,000 shoes is the most searing memory from their time in the museum. Shoes were just one category of belongings the Nazis systematically confiscated from their victims at the killing centres (like Auschwitz-Birkenau). Vast quantities of clothing, eyeglasses, kitchen utensils, hair- and toothbrushes—every kind of personal item—were seized and shipped to Germany or distributed to the local populations.

“One shoe, two shoes, a dozen shoes, yes. But how can you describe several thousand shoes?” - Edward R. Murrow

Another quote embossed on the wall -

"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.”

Yiddish Poet Moses Schulstien

The 4,000 shoes displayed in the Exhibition are on loan from the State Museum of Majdanek in Lublin, Poland, and represent a tiny fraction of those found at Majdanek in 1944.

We started out journey back to the Sheraton and re-grouped in our LGMs to reflect on what we saw. After a lot of discussion we walked down the road to the Air Force Memorial. Glow sticks in hand, the GYLC team sat in front of the Arlington Cemetery and watching the 4th of July firework frenzy that took place over the Washington Monument. The GYLC group bonded over fireworks and a good game of football (congratulations Germany and Brazil).It was a privilege to be able to witness the Independence Day celebrations at the capital. This was our last day here before we move onto our second leg of GYLC which is New York.

Happy Birthday America!