On Sunday I visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.
The exhibit was far larger than I had anticipated. Upon entry you must secure a free ticket before traveling to the fourth floor to begin your self-guided tour. The tickets are necessary to provide a smooth flow of people through the exhibit; it is very popular and quite crowded. It took me three hours to transit the galleries; I’m sure I could have taken several more hours if I’d seen every movie and read all of the documentation.
The exhibits focus on the facts of the era, rather than trying to draw opinions of the leaders of that era. For example, when discussing the limitations for emigration from Germany to other countries, the exhibits reminded visitors that the world was still suffering from the depression with up to 25% unemployment. Many countries questioned if they could sustain themselves, let alone additional unemployed immigrants.
They also were careful to only quote verifiable figures – giving strong credence to the numbers that were supplied concerning the millions who were murdered for faith, genetics, or political standing.
The galleries made excellent use of photographs, video (from period motion pictures), authentic artifacts, and castings from original artifacts, to present a powerful presentation. Many of the videos are contained behind low walls, with warnings concerning their disturbing nature to warn-off the squeamish. Some of the more powerful elements, for me, included the artifacts from the prosecuted people – hair, toothbrushes, shoes – as well as the implements of their demise – an actual German rail car used in the relocation to death camps.
I made some crowd observations while walking the galleries:
- First, women significantly outnumbered men. I find myself analyzing for causality, but nothing is clear. To a certain extent, I found the lack of male participation disturbing – Lest we forget…
- Second, it was solemnly quiet throughout the galleries. Very rarely did anyone speak; the message of injustice and death is overwhelming.
- Thirdly, some parents brought their children. I was really surprised to see children under the age of 12 in the museum. I would not recommend this for children under 12, although I would strongly support exposing it to young adults.
- Finally, it was very crowded. I was encouraged that the staff had to moderate the flow of people into the building to avoid overcrowding (and perhaps not exceed the fire marshal’s limits?). The crowd seemed to be of many nationalities, although primarily Americans.
If you haven't been, you should go. The museum provides a small glimpse into the horror that one man can inflict to another. Understanding this evil can help us to more quickly recognize it in ourselves, and in future events.