A picture is worth a thousand words, and today the Western Oregon University campus painted a picture of 11 million lost lives. As you walk down Monmouth Avenue, full of flags of different colors and sizes, it is difficult to take in the impact that the Holocaust had on our world. (My one photo didn’t even capture half of it, but if you look far enough you’ll see the continuation of greens and pinks). I witnessed many people reading signs near the flags, taking pictures, and talking about the beautifully horrific image that WOU has created.
Each flag is a minor representation of 500 lives that were lost during the war. Each color represents a different group of people, and the color choices are mirrored after the colored triangles used in Internment camps to alert guards to each person’s “offense”.
Walking around for 45 minutes, it wasn’t too difficult to get people to start talking about what they were seeing:
“I didn’t know what the flags were, I was pretty confused, but…there are so many.”
“I guess you never really think about it. Like, 11 million is a big number but seeing it take up the whole street is a completely different view of it. I feel like I’m walking past piles of dead bodies. I still have such a hard time believing something this terrible could ever happen.”
“You don’t really think about the millions of other people who died who weren’t [Jewish]. Hitler wasn’t after only Jews, he pretty much hated anybody who wasn’t perfect. ”
“They never taught me this in school, I didn’t even know that gays and lesbians were forced into internment camps.”
“It’s just heavy, I have never seen the deaths displayed like this, and it’s definitely a different experience.”
Like many of the people walking by, before today I had never seen a visualization of the number of deaths that occurred during the Holocaust. Walking through each color, I couldn’t help but think about the amazing people who were so terribly persecuted before they even had a chance, especially walking by the 3,500 small yellow flags: Jewish children never had the opportunity to make it into adulthood.
It was especially hard looking at the white, pink, or lime flags (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Homosexuals, and Spanish Republicans respectively). The groups with the least deaths, or with just six small flags in this sea of yellow, was still a representation of 3,000 lost lives: nearly half of our school population.
Today, as every other day, is a chance to remember those who had their lives taken from them as the world turned a blind eye. When we forget history, we repeat it, and I can certainly say this horrific event is one I never wish to see again. You can spend years studying something in school, but seeing it there in front of you is a picture worth more than a thousand words: one worth eleven billion.
By Quinn Murphy