Once outside the National Holocaust Museum, I found a concrete bench and turned my back to the world I had just experienced. For the few moments that I was in the museum, I cried for what seemed like hours. I thought that I was Daniel, the little boy on the bottom floor exhibit who lived in Hitler’s Germany, during the Holocaust.

There was no doubt in my mind that I was that boy. Alone and cold. I was frightened, witnessing all sorts of madness. My world as a little boy was crumbling at my feet with windows shattering, anti-Semitic remarks spray-painted on the walls, babies crying for their mothers, growling German Shepherds, and rapid-fire gunshots from Nazi SS officers.

That day, I believed that I had a past life. I was the boy called Daniel, and I felt overwhelmed by his horrifying experience. All I wanted to do was to escape.

Silly that my reality was so distorted, I told myself. It was just a museum. No danger was lurking in its walls and corridors. But it felt too real for me to discount. Soon, I was in Auschwitz, southern Poland, surrounded by evil men and women who wanted to destroy me, my family, and my people. And they wouldn’t flinch one bit at pulling a trigger on a defenseless little boy.

My eyes were red and watery from crying as people looked at me when they entered the front door of the museum. I could feel their apprehension upon entering the building for fear of an emotional reaction similar to mine. I wanted to tell them not to go inside the haunting replica of a concentration camp, but they had to see it for themselves. Perhaps they would be okay, and wouldn’t react to the horror as I did in a little boy’s body.

I cried for all the children who had suffered and died. I was the poster boy for the Holocaust pain, and I couldn’t bear it. It was not what I expected when I bought the tickets. I thought it would be hard to take, but I never imagined that I would feel as though I were there.

I kept telling myself that I have a different body now. I’m not a boy living in 1941, Germany anymore. There’s no violence in my present life. I live in much comfort and security. I have a respectable job in a cushy office treating people with emotional pain, and, up until this time, I didn’t realize how much trauma I had. I thought I was a well-adjusted middle-aged man who lived peacefully with a loving daughter and wife. My life had been simple and practical. But that all changed the minute I entered the museum and began to walk in Daniel’s shoes along the creaky wooden floors of his house and to hear his shaky words.

My daughter’s slender arm wrapped around my shoulders. “Dad, It’s okay. You need to get it all out.”

“But I can’t stop crying,” I said in a little boy’s voice. “It’s like a broken faucet.”

“It’s okay. You’re feeling what you’re feeling for a reason. It’s a good thing that you’re crying.”

My daughter was going to be a talented psychologist one day. She knew all the right things to say, and her timing was impeccable. She accepted how I felt and didn’t try to change me or say snap out of it.

Being a therapist, I knew how important it was to get all those trapped emotions out of my system. I should have been relieved that my daughter was giving me permission to experience my feelings and not deny them. But I was stuck in the past. I felt guilty, responsible for my pain, and upset that Daniel’s parents weren’t there to save him. I felt miserable in my trauma and only wanted to return to the life of a mild-mannered psychotherapist in his rational mind.

I resisted my daughter’s help, like some of my most oppositional clients. I attempted to will my tears to stop, tears that burned as the flames burned the shops and businesses of innocent German Jews down.

My tears were the pain of the holocaust that does not end. It never ends, I thought. It lingers like the crematorium smoke that billowed up to the red and black sky over those tortuous death camps. It lingers like those who ended up in the burial pits, one decaying body on top of the next.

My daughter took my hand as we walked a few blocks past hordes of Washington, D.C. tourists, who were oblivious to my ongoing discomfort.

“Where are we going?” I asked as I pressed a handkerchief against my red and swollen eyes.

“Don’t worry, Dad,” she said. “Trust me.” And she gave me a warm smile that I couldn’t resist.

The word “trust” rolled in my head for a while. Can I trust anyone anymore? Those who I once believed in may suddenly become enemies. Societies, the legal system, and the law enforcement system that had once protected us quickly could become accomplices in genocide.

I clamped tightly to my daughter’s hand as she promised to take me to a much safer place.

“Are you sure this will work?” I asked.

“Of course, Dad. Would I ever lead you astray?”

I shook my head. I had to trust her. Who else could I believe?

To my surprise, we soon pushed through the plastic screen of the Smithsonian Butterfly Garden. Thousands of friendly winged creatures landed on flowers, floated over our heads, glided in front of our noses, almost as if they were playful children without a worry in the world. I looked down at the butterfly resting on my shoe. I wanted to hold onto its magic but instead marveled at the exquisite colors and designs at a safe distance.

“These butterflies have so much beauty,” I said. “They seem to bring peace and hope into the world.”

My daughter smiled as if she had known all along.

My watery eyes began to dry up. The sounds of glass breaking, dogs barking, SS troopers stomping in black leather boots had all ceased. I was no longer a little boy named Daniel. I had returned to my normal self, a psychologist.

I imagined that the butterflies were all victims of the Holocaust, victims rising again. They rose from the furnace of death where the black smoke from the crematoriums billowed up to the gray, murky sky. The bodies of the victims transformed one after another. Once smoke from burning flesh, now they had evolved into millions of dancing and fluttering butterflies. They spread their wings in forgiveness and love.

My breath changed from shallow a few minutes ago to full and deep.

“Are you all right, now, Dad?”

“Yes,” I told her. “You remember that little boy who died in the Holocaust, Daniel?”

“Yes, what about him?”

“He no longer suffers,” I told her. “That’s why I’m so happy.”

The people who were once in pain are no longer hurting. Now they are here, in the butterfly garden, reborn, celebrating a new day, an evolution of their souls from a dreadful past. Their memories will live forever.

My daughter hugged me. Now she was in tears.