Roll #25: Choo-Choos & Other Things

Updated: Feb 20, 2020

When you have a child, trains go through a radical transformation to become choo-choos. Choo-choos are fun, friendly, loud, and big. Choo-choos have been anthropomorphized through the wildly successful Thomas & Friends children’s show. Children love choo-choos. For this reason, one fine Saturday morning, rather than making the 45-minute trip to Washington, DC in a car, we took a choo-choo.

The ride to Union Station was short and sweet. What better way to start your trip in than with not having to find parking? After getting off the choo-choo, we headed to another part of the station to grab the subway (no kids word for this yet) to Smithsonian station, which would leave us a short walk from our destination: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

I know you’re thinking “That’s not a place for kids.” And you’d be right. It was a pretty terrible idea taking a toddler (and stroller) into the museum because, to be quite honest and selfish, it made it hard for me to appreciate the greatness of the museum and fully absorb the terribleness of the event. Rather than read plaques and examine artifacts, I spent my time chasing after my son to make sure he didn’t disappear into the sea of people trying to appreciate the exhibits. However, as I chased this little human through the museum, I passed a few things which really caught my attention and made the unjust, disgusting, hate-riddled nature of the Holocaust, real.

The first of these things was a pile of shoes. Old, leather, well-worn shoes which gave of a cool, musty smell. Heaps of shoes. Mostly brown with the occasional splash of white and burgundy. These were the shoes which Nazi forces confiscated from Jews and non-Jewish Poles as they entered the camp. While the camp’s death toll remains a topic of debate, conservative estimates indicate 78,000 perished during the camp’s operation. On a single day during operation “Harvest Festival,” firing squads killed 18,400 Jews. Those who were spared were ordered to sort through the clothes of the dead and cover the burial trenches. These are their shoes…

Shoes from the Holocaust

Directly across from the shoes is another powerful visual: Prisoner serial numbers manifested through a forearm tattoo. Over the course of the holocaust, some 400,000 numbers were generated and tattooed.

Holocaust tattoos. United States Holocaust Museum.

For those unfamiliar with the alpha-numeric ID system, the numbers are self-explanatory, increasing with each incoming prisoner. The alpha on the other hand is more interesting. Here’s what I found:

“Regular”: No alpha prefix. A consecutive numerical series from the early phase (May 1940 - January 1945) of the Auschwitz concentration camp, to identify Poles, Jews, and most other prisoners (all male).

AU: Soviet prisoners of war

Z: Gypsy (Zigeuner)

EH: Prisoners sent in for reeducation (Erziehungshäftlinge). This represents those who refused to work at forced labor or had been accused of working in a manner that was not found satisfactory.

A/B: Numbers in the "A" series and the "B" series were first issued to Jewish prisoners. The intention was to work through the entire alphabet with 20,000 numbers being issued in each letter series. In each series, men and women had their own separate numerical series.

SU: Soviet Prisoner of War (painted on army uniforms, not tattooed)

With these images in mind, I continued my chase of Damian, taking in the unique architecture of the museum.

Interior of United States Holocaust Museum

Our museum trip was short. What can you do? One day we’ll return. We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the city, stopping to watch an overly aggressive tow truck driver try and tow illegally parked food trucks, and eating at &pizza.

Before making the trek back to Union Station, we made one last stop at the Old Post Office and Clock Tower which was built from 1892 to 1899. When it was all said and done, it had cost a whopping $3M ($85M in 2019 money). Over the years, building ownership has changed hands, with its current owner being Donald J. Trump, who transformed the property into an ultra-luxury hotel. We arrived at the building, waited in a short line, and took a series of elevators to the top of the clock tower.

It’s amazing how quiet things get, the higher you go. A warm breeze blew through the tower. After a few minutes of trying to keep my son from slipping between the wires, we headed back to Union Station, hopped on a choo-choo, and went home.

But this wasn’t the end of the roll!

The next day we spent the afternoon in Baltimore running around Patterson Park and trying to beat the summer heat with a fruity snowball from Bmore Licks. After more than two years of poor planning, we finally got around to climbing the Patterson Pagoda.

With sugar pumping through my veins, I wasn’t done. I kept pounding the pavement in the brutal heat, basking in the opportunity to show of my fresh Film Awakening organic cotton tote. After an hour of walking and nobody noticing how cool I looked with my tote, I gathered the family, went back to the car, cried a bit, then drove home, where upon arrival I cried a bit more before taking a long nap.

Camera: Canon Sure Shot Z115

Film: Kodak TRI-X 400

When: July 2019

Where: Washington, DC + Baltimore, Maryland

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