Paris, according to Wikipedia, has 130 museums. The Louvre , the Musee D’Orsay , the Rodin museum are all very popular and rightly so. However, one museum that stood out from the rest for us was the Shoah Memorial museum in the Marais district. Not because it contains beautiful pieces of art but because it chronicles the horrors of Holocaust , which should not be forgotten , lest it happens again.
We did a tour of the Marais district with Karen , who runs a walking tour company called Sightseeker’s Delight. Marais was and is primarily a locality where the Jews of Paris reside and thus has many synagogues , kosher bakeries and restaurants. It is also where the Shoah museum is located.
Our tour comprised of Jews of different nationalities – Americans , Australians, South africans – we were the only non- Jewish people on the tour that day. Karen was an amazing guide , sharing anecdotes as well as stories of persecution with a dash of humour. She recommended patisseries and introduced us to various sweets and pastries , typically made in Jewish homes. We were even taken inside a synagogue – it was small , beautiful and a highlight of the tour.
Later , we all had lunch with Karen at Lás du Falafel – supposedly the best falafel place in Paris. Our portion sizes were huge and though I am a fan of pita bread and falafels , I could barely eat half of what was served to me. And yes, there were vegetarian options on the menu, in fact Karen herself is a veggie!
The tour ended near the Shoah museum , where she spoke on the horrors of the Holocaust – names , statistics, places. It was a sombre end to a tour that had been interesting as well as informative. After the tour , we decided to see the museum – it was free and just a stone’s throw away. We did not realise what an impact it would have on us.
There is a wall of names as one enters the museum – the Parisian Jews deported to concentration/extermination camps , with date of birth and date of deportation.
The number of children deported was mind numbing – scores and scores of young toddlers and infants deported to concentration camps – all because of their chance birth into a Jewish family. There was also a wall with photos of the children deported – as a mother myself, I could not even begin to imagine the anguish of the parents of those children – almost all of them sent to the gas chamber as soon as they reached the camp since they were not fit to work.
There were also videos of concentration camps after the Allies freed them , photos and details of the functioning of these camps. Clothes and other items used by the inmates of these camps were also on display.
We spent hours wandering around , forgetting that we had plans to see the Louvre at 5 pm. When we finally came out , our mood was sombre. Looking around us , we felt thankful for the freedom that we enjoy , the lives that we lead. The Holocaust is something that should serve as a reminder of what happens when religious intolerance reaches a level where rational thinking stops and fanaticism takes over.