Rydell interns at Holocaust Museum In October, Northwestern College senior Christie Rydell, Vermillion, was riding the elevator after a long Friday at her intern site. Two elderly gentlemen got on with her.
During the ride, one turned to her and asked if she spoke Yiddish. "No," she said. Then he said, "I learned German under very difficult circumstances," and rolled up his sleeve to show her a series of numbers that had been his identification as a Jew during the Holocaust.
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A history major and merit
scholarship recipient, Rydell spent the fall semester in Washington, D.C., on the American Studies Program, sponsored by the Coalition of Christian Colleges and Universities.
"The program aims to help us as intellectuals and Christians live out our beliefs," explains Rydell. "The professors help us find our voice, a meaningful one that will have impact, and they teach us how to use it."
In addition to classes, Rydell interned at the United States Holocaust Museum. "I've been fascinated by the Holocaust since junior high, reading a lot of historical fiction about it and of course The Diary of Anne Frank. But it was a college class on Nazi Germany where I studied Nazi ideology and the Holocaust that was really formative to my understanding of what happened during that period. The background I gained in that class prepared me well for my work at the museum."
Rydell isn't as interested in the grisly accounts of the Holocaust as she is in the individuals and their stories. So she was well-suited to her job in the photo archives of the museum, sifting through over 60,000 pictures of individuals and families and recording their stories.
"The statistics can be numbing," she says. "But the photos remind you that these were actual people." The survivors of the Holocaust and their families send pictures to the museum by the thousands.
Rydell is helping to build and manage a database documenting the names of people, the location of the photo, the date and the donor's story.
"I have a picture of a family who boarded the St. Louis, a refugee ship, to escape Germany. They were promised they could land in Cuba, but then they were turned away. They were refused by the United States, too, and were forced back to Europe."
She also has pictures of children who were put by their parents on Kindertransports, ships that would take them away from Germany to relatives or sponsors in other countries. "One is a woman who survived the war with a sponsoring Quaker family. But her parents were both deported and died."
In addition to the photos, Rydell also has access to three floors of video and photo exhibits depicting the Holocaust, beginning with the Nazi rise to power, through the deportations, ghettos, concentration camps and finally the liberation.
The museum's artifacts include the infamous pile of shoes, discarded at a concentration camp; a boxcar used for transport to the camps; parts of barracks from the camps; and items from the ghettos, like a casting of a manhole cover that represented a hiding place during Nazi raids.
Rydell will graduate in December. She is pursuing another internship, in collections management at the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre. Next fall she hopes to go to graduate school.
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After he showed her his tattoo, the man from the elevator disappeared. "I didn't get the rest of his story," Rydell sighs. "He was gone too fast. But I watched him go and I thought, 'I just met a survivor.' "