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Emotional Visit to U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Increases Emphathy

Current and former Vikings met team Owner/President Mark Wilf in Washington, D.C., this spring for a deeply emotional visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Ameer Abdullah, C.J. Ham, Anthony Harris and Stephen Weatherly; Vikings Legends Visanthe Shiancoe and Tony Richardson; Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren and staff members walked with Wilf through the museum that pays remembrance to those who suffered or were killed during the atrocities of the Holocaust.

Over the course of a 12-year period that lasted until the end of World War II in 1945, six million Jewish people out of the nine million living in Europe were executed by the Nazi regime. Another 11 million people lost their lives based on differences in ethnicity, religion, political beliefs or sexual orientation. At least 250,000 people with mental or physical disabilities were murdered.

Wilf’s parents, Joseph and Elizabeth, survived the Holocaust and emigrated from Europe to the United States in the 1950s.

“In the Hebrew language, there is no word for history,” Wilf explained. “The only word for history in the Jewish language is zakar, and that means remember. We don’t have a history unless we tell the stories.

“In the United States, there’s still nearly 100,000 survivors, but as time goes by, there will be less and less people that remember what happened, and that’s why a building like this is important,” Wilf said. “These stories have to be continued to be told so that young people learn and so we never have those things happen again.”

The Vikings walked through the museum that pays remembrance to those who suffered or were killed during the atrocities of the Holocaust.

One of the displays in the museum’s permanent exhibition tells the story of the St. Louis, a German liner that transported 937 passengers from Hamburg, Germany, to Havana, Cuba, on May 13, 1939.

The Cuban government, however, canceled the landing permits for all but 28 passengers (22 had U.S. visas, four were Spanish citizens, two were Cuban nationals). The ship was forced to leave and sailed near the Florida coast, but passengers were not allowed to enter the United States since they did not have visas.

The ship sailed back toward Europe on June 6. Great Britain admitted 288 passengers, and the Netherlands took in 181. Another 214 went to Belgium, and 224 took temporary refuge in France.

All but one of the passengers that was admitted by Great Britain survived World War II, but 254 of the passengers who returned to continental Europe died during the Holocaust.

Weatherly, a defensive end preparing for his fourth pro season, had previously visited the museum. He also had taken a trip to Germany when he was in 10th grade.

“There were a lot of, ‘Oh my God’ moments. Or, ‘That really happened?’ That was the magnitude of the devastation overseas,” Weatherly said.

Not everyone will go to Germany, or maybe even to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, but Weatherly hopes the existence of memorials and museums will help multiple groups of people understand “trials and tribulations” of others.

“Let’s all help each other move forward,” Weatherly said. “I feel like that’s the next step. We’ve just got to keep going.”

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Weatherly and the group also visited the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAAHC) with 50 Minneapolis Public High School students that are in Project Success while in Washington.

“When you go to these museums, you start to see similarities, and when you see similarities between groups, that’s when you truly start to move forward as a nation, so that’s important,” Weatherly said. “With knowledge, comes progression.”

Wilf spoke to the Vikings group during the visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“We are all very privileged [to be with the Vikings], but with that privilege comes a responsibility to give back, be the role models that you are,” he said. “That’s very important to us.”

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