Kristin A. Smith ‘11 was one of 18 students selected to embark on an incredible summer experience: an internship at the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, where she would study the files pertaining to the 17 million people on record related to or effected by the Holocaust. For ten days in August 2010, she immersed herself in the International Tracing Service archives—records of imprisonment and medical experimentation, displaced persons, SS officer forms, war criminals and selections. Kristin, a history major, decided to participate in this internship because it related so closely to her senior capstone topic: Nazi Medical Experimentation.
At the museum, students spent hours studying packets containing records of personal cases, specific camps and their systems, or action plans. Kristin said that the most difficult part was learning how to decode the records, which were written in German and heavily annotated. “Everything was categorized,” she says. “Different lines and colors were used as codes to distinguish prisoner classes or the reason they were imprisoned. For instance, red triangles were used to denote prisoners of war. Purple triangles identified Jehovah’s Witnesses. The records were almost impossible to decode.”
Kristin heard of this opportunity from German Professor James Martin, and knew the experience would help her develop her thesis. Kristin’s grandfather, a Naval lieutenant and a history buff, sparked her longstanding interest of both medical sciences and war history. Kristin was particularly interested in the experience because she wanted to help expand awareness of the Holocaust and victimization studies.
“The internship was exhausting, both physically and emotionally,” says Kristin. “The fact that the museum even exists says something about our intolerance and our attitude towards discrimination.”
The stories that emerged were the most rewarding aspect of the internship. She spoke of one man who spent the entire war in a succession of prison camps until he was liberated from Auschwitz. “It was really amazing to hear the stories of such struggle and survival,” states Kristin.
Kristin is poised now to attend graduate school in pursuit of a doctoral degree in historical studies, specializing in Holocaust research. She hopes to continue in museum research work in the same field, preferably at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum where her internship took place. The archives there are now being digitized, providing access to the public at www.ushmm.org
- Major: History