There are museums and then there is the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. If you ever find yourself in Washington, even just for a day, you must go there. All images taken from USHMM.org – photographs are not allowed in the museum
As I entered my bag was searched and it felt like a bit of a hostile environment, we were guided through to the lift and handed an identity card that was like a passport containing the details of a young woman who was persecuted during the Holocaust. In the lift there was an oral account of a soldier that had discovered one of the concentration camps. I could tell everyone was starting to feel uneasy, I was on my own and still feel emotional when I think about it now.
The museum takes you on a journey that begins with Jewish life in Europe before the Holocaust, we really get a sense of these fellow human beings and how they lead their lives like you or I before this terrible atrocity. The image above depicts the Tower of Faces, taken between 1890 and 1941 in Eishishok, a small town in what is now Lithuania, they describe a vibrant Jewish community that existed for 900 years. In 1941, an SS mobile killing squad entered the village and within two days massacred the Jewish population.
You will get an understanding of the Nazi movements rise to power and how they created propaganda and eventually persecuted Jews, Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), and the mentally and physically handicapped as well as homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, political dissidents, Poles, and Soviet prisoners of war. Along with the historical knowledge you will gain, the museum emblazes a sense of responsibility. In the world we live in now prejudice and injustice are still rife. You must do something about it, don’t just stay quiet, speak out. The Holocaust offers us a lesson on the past, present and the future. The museum had a healthy flow of visitors but no-one was talking so it remained quiet throughout, it is certainly a topic which brings rise to quiet reflection. The roundup, deportation, and resettlement of European Jewry to the death camps and killing centres is a hideous part of our history, but something we must understand in order to respond.
I would highly recommend you watch the film ‘Life Is Beautiful’ which tells te sublime story of a Jewish family during this period of time.Walk through the gates of Auschwitz, Arbeit Macht Frei means ‘Work Sets You Free’, it is believed many of the prisoners did not know their fate. There is a brief respite where we get to find out about resistance, rescue, and life in hiding during the Holocaust. There are some incredible tales of the human spirit. Most people are familiar with Anne Frank. If you can, read the memoir titled The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman, it tells his true story of his survival in Warsaw. It is also a very good film.
Following the liberation of Europe and the disclosure of Nazi concentration camps we learn about war crimes trials and displaced persons camps. For me, the moment I broke down was at the end when I left the exhibition rooms and entered the Hall of Remembrance. It’s rather like a chapel and allows time to light a candle and reflect on what you saw. The chronological story told by the museum raced back in my mind like the images of a movie. Very powerful.
The museum has an excellent children’s area called ‘Daniel’s Story’ which is suitable for under 12’s. They have incredible online resources, so even if you can’t make it to Washington there is plenty to learn from the website. Life After The Holocaust presents the story of 6 holocaust survivors that migrated to the US. The graphic novel Maus tells the tale of a survivor.
This museum is an experience that will leave you with a powerful message.
Entry Fee: Free, but you may need to book a time
Location: 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place, SW, Washington, DC 20024