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Boys Nation senators climb the Hill

Boys Nation senators climb the Hill
Boys Nation senators visit Capitol Hill to meet with their respective state senators and congressmen. Photo by Charlie Tucker

On Thursday, Boys Nation senators enjoyed a warm, sunny day off campus. After a hearty breakfast and a quick bus trip into D.C., the young men climbed the steep, long stairs to Capitol Hill where they - along with Girls Nation attendees - spoke to and had a picture taken with their respective state senator and/or representative.

While inside the Capitol, one senator saw George W. Bush from afar and others peered down a hallway and caught a glimpse of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and Arizona Sen. John McCain. A few of the young men managed to cross paths - even if that meant riding an elevator nonstop - with influential people from other state governments.

"I knew that if I rode the elevator for awhile that someone famous would have to step on, so I did just that," said Grady Ward from Essex, Vt. "And Olympia Snowe (Maine's Democrat senator) got on the elevator, and we talked for about 35 seconds. It was amazing!"

Once the senators met with their respective state politicians, they were free to visit museums located nearby. Many went to the Library of Congress, the Native American Museum and the Air and Space Museum. Others were afforded a private tour of the Capitol.

"We had a private tour of the Capitol building from a former Rhode Island Boys Nation senator who is now working as an intern for our state senators," said Hunter Hillman from Charlestown, R.I. "He took us around the building and then he had lunch with us downstairs in the cafeteria. It was absolutely amazing."

By late afternoon, the hungry senators made it back to Marymount University for dinner and a late senate session meeting. But before the meeting, the young men heard a powerful story that will forever remain with them, as its historical significance is outweighed only by its emotional appeal.

Nesse Godin, the 2011 recipient of The American Legion National Commander's Public Relations Award, shared her awe-inspiring journey as a Holocaust survivor. At 83 years old, Nesse lives in Silver Spring, Md., with her husband Jack, but she was born and raised in Siauliai, Lithuania. Before taking the senators back in time to 1943, she gladly informed the young men that she is an honorary Boys Nation senator, to which everyone cheered.

While living in the ghetto with her parents and two brothers at the young age of 16, Nesse witnessed her father and brothers being hauled away to Auschwitz. Soon thereafter, Nesse and her mother were on a train to Stutthof concentration camp. There, Nesse was given the ID number 54015, stripped of her belongings and clothes, beaten, and separated from her mother.

Nesse wholeheartedly believes that the older women within the camp played a significant role in her survival. They gave her the idea of sneaking into the labor camp line, so she wouldn't be put to death and would instead dig trenches for enemy tanks to fall into. And when Nesse wanted to give up and die, it was the women who told her she had to survive to tell her story and theirs.

"When I think of life in the ghetto and camps I think of hunger and fear," Nesse said. "If we don't remember the past, we don't have a secure future."

In total, Nesse endured Stutthof concentration camp, four labor camps, and a bitterly cold death march in January 1945. Two months after the death march, where 200 women survived out of 1,000, Nesse was liberated by the Soviet Army, weighing no more than 69 pounds. Unfortunately, her father didn't survive Auschwitz, but she was reunited with her mother and one brother before moving to the U.S. in 1950.

"I have a favor to ask," Nesse said to the senators. "Take my promise and teach the world how to be compassionate and how to be a little kinder to each other."

After Nesse answered a few questions from the senators, the young men showed gratitude to her by singing "Show Your Colors America" and "American Chant." A delight for everyone was watching her sing along.

"It is an inspiration to see her lack of bitterness," said Daniel Dahlby from Casper, Wyo., "and to hear how she has transformed the hate that was shown to her into love and encouragement to young people on how to be compassionate and kind."

"Her willpower to keep going is amazing," said Brian Jacobs from Franksville, Wisc. "She came over here to tell us about her story because it's so touching, and it really empowers us to go out and be better people."

Today, the senators will host their final senate session live at 8 a.m. (EDT) via www.legion.org/boysnation. They also will visit the American History Museum and the World War II Memorial.

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