Visiting the Holocaust Museum

Last Thursday, October 25, Pam and I visited the Holocaust museum in Washington, DC. One of our first vacations as a married couple, back in the early 1980s, was to Washington DC. But that was before the Holocaust museum opened. So this was at the top of our list.

I’ve read many books about the Holocaust. It has always fascinated me–how evil, truly evil, ordinary people can become. So obviously, the Holocaust Museum held high interest for me.

Here are a few thoughts.

You can’t help noticing the silence. Hundreds of people all around you, exploring the exhibits…and rarely a word spoken. Even the many schoolchildren, brought to the museum on field trips, were generally respectful.

The museum made great use of video, including so much stuff I had never seen. Including some very disturbing footage. The main videos–maybe 5-10 minutes apiece, perhaps five of them scattered throughout the museum in places with seating–were well worth watching. The first told of anti-semitism through the ages; the next told about the rise of anti-semitism in Germany. But in addition to these mini-features, numerous exhibits were accompanied by a small monitor showing footage. Very well used. And very disturbing…which was the point.

The room with shoes–thousands of shoes left at extermination camps by Jews, each pair worn by an actual person who was murdered–was riveting.

And the room with high, high walls filled with photos of Jews from one town–families, couples, individuals. Photos taken during happy times. Hundreds of them. I couldn’t help looking into the faces in those photos and wondering what those persons were like, what they endured, and how they died.

Perhaps my favorite part came toward the end, with a wall commemorating all the people who had helped rescue Jews. Hundreds of names listed. With some–perhaps 40 persons–they briefly told the person’s story. It reminded me of stories in Eva Fogelman’s book “Conscience and Courage: Rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust,” which I read some years ago and still have on my shelf. In fact, I recognized at least one of the stories from the book.

It’s great to know that, amidst such evil, numerous people possess the courage to do what is right, even at the risk of torture and death–which was the fate of some of these rescuers.

There were so many items from the Holocaust. Prison uniforms. Medical instruments. Beds from prison camps. Part of the Warsaw Ghetto wall. A train car used to transport Jews to extermination camps. Each telling a piece of a tragedy of epic proportions.

At the end came an exhibit about genocide in modern times–Bosnia, Rwanda, the Sudan. This was by far the weakest part of the museum. I wish they had just focused on the Holocaust. But the big sign out from said “Never Forget,” and that refers to continuing acts of genocide.

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