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A journal of social practice & professional engagement for the Antioch community
 

Godwin’s Law: Ian Wonn ’22 at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

For my co-op in Winter 2020, I am working for the Holocaust Museum. I am working with Noemi in the Oral History department and with Marc in Oral History. Noemi’s job is working with people to get a survivor’s history of life and time in the concentration camps into the archive at the museum. They do this in order to 1) have a vast collection of direct first-hand experiences, and 2) so that there is a permanent, first-hand experience record of the atrocities committed by the Nazis.

How they do this is to send people out into the “field” once we have made contact with them and they wish to be interviewed. Just recently, there was a commemoration event for the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland. A large group of the remaining survivors of that camp convened at the Auschwitz camp and museum along with many delegates from different countries in order to commemorate the event. Here, the delegates promise to always be on the fight against hate and keeping vigilant against future genocides, then go back to their countries and commit the same acts they swore to avoid. All in the good faith of the state, or course.

My job so far has been very rewarding. I have been working to  compile lists of survivors, trying to make contact with volunteers, and listening to, and taking notes during interviews. One of the biggest tasks I’ve gotten to do is to make scans of primary documents relating to a musicologist in Romania who was studying a culture there that no longer exists (for reasons that shouldn’t need explained). These are postcards, letters, notebook pages, sheet music, and plenty more. It is all written in Romanian, so we are sending it to be translated by volunteers in Romania. Another day, I spent the day destroying DVDs that we no longer have use for. This involved dragging a shard object across them in order to make deep scratches so that they became unreadable. This was a long task.

Many days I have spent researching art provenance and history topics. We have gone to the National Archives twice, and that is always a fun experience. It is quite amazing to hold primary, declassified O.S.S. documents in your hand and be able to read them. These are very fascinating and I have taken numerous detailed notes during these sessions.

The library at the Museum itself serves as a wonderful place to do research. They have so many resources, it is kind of overwhelming at times. The librarians there are very friendly and super helpful. They’ll guide you on your way to finding the right information. This has, so far, been the most rewarding job I’ve had in my life.

Life in D.C. though, is a little overrated. The city is nice enough, I love riding the metro, not having to worry about driving in this cluster of a mess of driving. It’s nice to just sit down on a train, and have it drop me off almost right in front of work and 1 mile from my house. That said, there’s something that’s missing here. They hide grime in D.C. behind layers of brand-new luxury apartments and young, yuppy millennials. Even Chinatown, a staple of every major city, has been corporatized. There’s a Starbucks on every corner and too many “gastropubs”. There should not be a McDonald’s in Chinatown, but that’s just my two-cents. It seems the city is putting on a mask, and that it’s not really what it is pretending to be.  That said, I do love the convenience of it all. Having everything so close, just a train ride away. There’s something therapeutic about riding the metro as well. Sitting down and letting someone else be in charge of your journey for a short while. It’s nice to let other people have the reins of your life once in a while. That seems to be what D.C. is at its heart, a place where other people make decisions for you.

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