By Fleet Capt. Dave Mason
LOS ANGELES — Assia Levinski was a young girl living in rural Lithuania with a large loving family.
The German invasion of Lithuania in summer 1941 cost Assia and her family their home. They and other Jews were deported to the Marijampole Ghetto, an overcrowded and unsanitary area. They were closed off to the rest of the world and left without food, medicine and heat.
In September 1941, the Nazis liquidated the ghetto and forced Assia and her family and the rest of the Jews to march to a site outside the city. There, the Germans killed Assia and her family and the other Jews with their machine guns, and their bodies fell into pits. Assia was 13.
The tragic story unfolded as I followed what happened to Assia in the main exhibit of the Museum of Tolerance. A museum employee handed me a card with Assia’s photo, and I placed it into various slots along the exhibit to see what happened to Assia.
Ryan Bondy and his friend Kelly Kwon joined Kathy Carder and me as we witnessed the history of the Holocaust, which killed approximately 6 million Jews during World War II. Each person going through the exhibit is handed a card with a photo and learns at the end of the displays whether the pictured person survived.
We visited the Los Angeles museum Jan. 13 during a USS Angeles away mission. Lisa Sobien joined us later that afternoon.
Ryan, Kelly, Kathy and I enjoyed lunch at the museum’s cafeteria, then proceeded to the exhibits. Our plans suddenly changed when a museum employee told us a Holocaust survivor was about to give a talk. We headed upstairs and listened to William Harvey, who survived a concentration camp and emigrated to the U.S. He became a Beverly Hills hair stylist for the stars.
Harvey, 95, gave an insightful, candid talk about the loss of his family, the day-to-day struggle for survival in a concentration camp and being moved around in freezing conditions on freight trains.
He survived and emigrated to New York and later California. He found his niche as a hair stylist.
In recent years, he has become a regular speaker at the museum. As he talked about the happier chapters of his life raising a family in California, Harvey cracked some jokes and made the small but attentive audience laugh.
After 90 minutes, Ryan and Kelly left during a brief break in his talk. Kathy and I did likewise a few minutes later. Ryan and Kelly went through the main exhibit, and Kathy and I went there a short time later.
The exhibit consisted of displays describing Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, the prejudice against Jews and ghettos such as the one in Warsaw. The most chilling segment took us into a concentration camp setting and the account of how Jews were killed in gas chambers and elsewhere.
Afterward, we were left with the lesson that the Holocaust can never be forgotten.
Kathy and I left the exhibit and ran into Lisa at the Point of View diner. Kathy needed to leave the museum, so we said goodbye, and Lisa and I stayed a bit at the diner to see interactive videos on bullying. Afterward, Lisa and I saw an exhibit on history of the civil rights struggle in the U.S. and around the world. Jewish leaders joined the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his efforts for a nonviolent change in society.
We left the exhibit with a realization of how far the world has progressed in efforts for equality and the work that remains to be done.