On Wednesday morning, 39-year-old Stephen Tyrone Johns woke up and put on his uniform, carefully placing his hat and tightly lacing his boots. He probably rode the Metro to work that morning, with his mind occupied on the mundane details of his life--What do I have to do this weekend? What's for lunch in the cafeteria at work today? Should I switch to satelliet?
The Metro doors opened at Smithsonian Station and Johns stepped off. He entered the Holocaust Memorial Museum--1 1/2 blocks from where I work--and took his post at the front-door security checkpoint. It was a day just like any other. Except it wasn't.
Johns watched as tourists passed through the metal detectors and he searched their bags carefully following protocol. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Suddenly, around 1 p.m. a man walked through the front doors of the museum wielding a rifle. He opened fire in the crowded vestibule. BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! Five or six shots are fired, Johns has been shot. The wound is fatal. Just like that a man's life is over.
My recount of Johns' morning before the shooting is pure speculation, but the details of his tragic death are not. This man woke up and went to work, just like he would on any other day, except this time he didn't make it home.
The shooter was an 88-year-old anti-Semitic, white supremacist. He shot up the Holocaust Memorial Museum to show the world his hate for Jews. For my people. My family. Me.
Writings attributed to the gunman on the Internet say the Holocaust was a hoax and decry a Jewish conspiracy to "destroy the white gene pool." Reading these words make my mouth go dry, my head throb and my eyes fill with tears.
I have relatives who are Holocaust survivors and had relatives who were not so lucky. My great grandfather was believed to have been murdered by the Nazis. My grandfather Max spent his entire adulthood searching for answers, but his father's body was never found. My grandfather's brother, Bernard, can recount horrific tales of Jews being shot point-blank in the head by Nazi soldiers right in public. My great aunt Sarah almost died of starvation in a ghetto in Poland and narrowly escaped death by assuming a false identity.
To deny the Holocaust is to deny my family history and to devalue my loved ones' pain and suffering.
After this tragic event, this disgusting hate crime, I feel an array of dizzying emotions from anger and fear to guilt and a sense of responsibility.
I am angry at those who hold hate in their hearts and have no respect for the life.
I am afraid that something like this could happen "in my own backyard."
I feel guilty for all the times someone has used "Jew" as a derogatory term in front of me while I stood silent instead of standing up for myself and my people.
I feel a sense of responsibility to share my family's story, to let people know that the Holocaust was real. The people who died was real. The emotional scars left on the survivors and their families are real. I am real.