Virginia Commonwealth University
In this paper, I articulate my experience at the Virginia Holocaust museum, paying particular attention to my emotional and cognitive reactions. As a student of social work, I benefit from knowledge of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Code of Ethics, which I employ in reflecting upon the dichotomization and construction of the other that fueled the Nazi intolerance towards Jews and other ethnically diverse populations and led to their genocide. By examining the current genocide in the South Sudan, I highlight commonalities between the Holocaust and the modern plight of marginalized South Sudanese populations. Finally, I utilize the NASW ethical principles of Social Justice and Dignity and Worth of the Person to imagine how I would have reacted, as a social worker, to the Holocaust. Through this process of reflection, I gain insight into the mechanisms of intolerance and better position myself to be a positive change agent. Keywords: dichotomization, ethics, genocide, holocaust, Nazi, social work, Sudan
Examining the Holocaust from a Social Worker’s Perspective Introduction
The purpose of this paper is to reflect upon my experience at the Virginia Holocaust Museum on September 11, 2012. By providing a detailed and thoughtful examination of one of the most shameful chapters in human history, the Virginia Holocaust Museum elicits a strong emotional and cognitive reaction. As a student of social work and an active participant in the current political landscape, I am able to use current events and my understanding of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Code of Ethics as a lens in which to examine the atrocities of the Holocaust. By understanding the threads of intolerance that connect the Holocaust to the current genocide in the Sudan and applying the NASW ethical principles of social justice and the dignity and worth of the person, I am able to gain a richer understanding of the Holocaust and the millions of lives it affected.
Growing up in the Virginia public school system, impersonal statistics and broad textbook generalities taught me about the Holocaust in history class. While I remember feeling unsettled and recognizing in some undefinable way that this event was truly terrible, the emotional weight of sadness and terror that the Holocaust commands did not truly sink in until my family brought me to visit the National Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. Walking slowly through the exhibits, I recall vividly the feeling that I was being turned inside out, my emotional nerve endings exposed to the pain and depravity of the collective nightmare of 11 million individuals. This was a profound experience for my young mind. The question “How could this happen?” tattooed itself on my consciousness and never received a truly satisfying answer.
This question took on a renewed resonance as I took part in a School of Social Work fieldtrip to the Virginia Holocaust Museum. Returning for another in-depth look at the Holocaust, this time as an adult with infinitely more life experience, I again found myself emotionally raw. From the moment we arrived our docent, John Hagadorn, began immersing us in the facts and contextual details of the Holocaust. John overwhelmed us with the blunt statistics, sharing about the 6 million Jews and 5 million Czechs, Hungarians, Gypsies, LGBT and disabled persons who were systematically destroyed before the Allied forces of Great Britain, France, Russia and the United States were able to intervene. Hearing these numbers and the multitude of groups affected, I was struck by the Nazi’s tendency to aggregate, or lump together, different groups that did not meet the German’s ethnocentric, heteronormative, and physicalist perspectives (Rosenblum & Travis, 2012). After aggregating these groups, the Nazi’s were able to...