Alex Cywes didn’t want to go to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. But the chance to share his grandmother’s story and the support of his fellow senators at American Legion Boys Nation got him through.
Cywes’ grandmother, Marianne Kemeny Wolfe, was sent to Auschwitz when she was 13. She survived, but the painful memories of what happened at Auschwitz under the Nazis left Cywes, a Boys Nation senator from Florida, reluctant to visit the museum with the rest of Boys Nation on Wednesday.
In fact, he spoke up at his section meeting the night before, asking if he could wait in the museum’s lobby or otherwise not go through the museum, which guides visitors from the beginnings of Nazi Germany through World War II and its aftermath.
“The immediate response was, ‘No, we’re going to be there for you 100 percent and we want you to come through,’” Cywes said. “I was a little timid to go in the beginning, then I started getting a little emotional as I was going through, just because it brings up a lot of memories, a lot of stories I’ve been told; it’s a very personal thing for my family. And my section, actually other sections too, even people that I hadn’t necessarily talked to all that much were so supportive of me.”
The moment that will stick with Cywes for the rest of his life, he said, came when he was standing before an Auschwitz exhibit.
“These guys came and supported me, we had this huge group hug and everybody was crying, they were like, ‘We totally empathize with you. This is something that we think is so important,’” he said.
Cywes admitted he was hesitant to go to the museum “with a group of guys that I had met only like a couple of days ago, because No. 1, that’s a very vulnerable experience for me, and I can sometimes get hurt when people don’t necessarily take it seriously, and I know that can kind of be like, ‘Oh, he’s a stickler.’ For me, that’s a huge thing because I don’t think people realize how much they stripped people of their humanity, like people in my family.”
It was a wrenching emotional experience for Cywes, but one he said he would take again.
“It’s tough, but it’s important to tell my grandmother’s story,” he said.
More from Wednesday
Boys Nation President Joshua Cheadle and Vice President Aabid Razvi were officially inaugurated Wednesday morning.
USAA Vice President for Federal and Government Relations John Hughes spoke to the senators Wednesday morning as well.
After visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Jefferson Memorial, the Boys Nation senators headed to Joint Base Myer-Henderson to watch a performance of Twilight Tattoo, a reenactment of the history of the U.S. Army.
“It’s just so amazing to see how people you’ve only met a couple days ago can be so, so, so, so supportive.” – Alex Cywes of Florida.
Follow the happenings at American Legion Boys Nation 2018 here on legion.org and on social media using the hashtag #BoysNation2018.