A visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum allows you to remember and honor those lost in the Holocaust. The Washington, DC museum focuses on the individuals in the story while also providing context for World War II. While some of my friends have told me they couldn’t go here, I do think the way the museum focuses on remembrance allows you to get past the darkness. It’s a way to “never forget.”
Begin your time at the Holocaust Museum by going to the top of the three floors. As you wind around and then down to the second and first floors, events of the war are presented in chronological order.
The most moving display for me is the photographic project showing those who lived in Eisishok (now in Lithuania), from 1890 to 1941. This town had a large and active Jewish population for centuries. Photographs were collected from more than 100 families. The photos go from the tall ceiling down through the floors, so you see them more than once as you make your way through the museum. Looking at these faces, especially of the children, you realize that the statistics of deported and killed during the Holocaust are numbing, but each number was a person – with a face, a family, and an everyday life of celebration and sports and toys.
In the passages between floors, glass walls are etched with names of communities affected by the Holocaust. These are arranged by country and alphabetized, so you can find a particular town if you have family from Europe.
The collection in this Holocaust Museum offers large items such as the “Work Makes Free” sign that was the first sight of the concentration camp as prisoners arrived. A full-size train car sits in semi-darkness. You can walk through and imagine the fear felt by those herded aboard.
The shoes of prisoners survived the war in bunches. I have seen these in other museums, too, and they are always so amazing. To think these belonged to people walking down the street. I’m planning to see the memorial in Budapest of bronzed shoes along the Danube, honoring the Jews who died there. Here in Washington, the sheer volume of shoes is heartbreaking.
One photo of a survivor fascinated me because I just read the current bestseller, Lilac Girls. In this book, one of the main characters is in a concentration camp and is a victim of medical experiments involving the implanting of metal and bacteria in legs to “see what happened.” This is a clandestine photo taken after the war of a survivor of these experiments, with the metal still in her leg. The book is fiction but is clearly based on fact.
Another photo caught my eye — young Irena Sendler. I recently read her biography, Irena’s Children. She was 29 when the war broke out and she ended up working in the Warsaw ghetto from the outside. She ventured in and smuggled out children any way possible, along with her resistance group. They saved 2,500 little ones at great risk to themselves. Her story is harrowing and fascinating.
I highly recommend Lilac Girls and Irena’s Children. And here are a few other books I recommend on the Holocaust.
The Story of Daniel on the first floor of the Holocaust Museum is an excellent presentation for children on the life of a young boy in Poland during the war. The first scenes depict normal life with a kitchen. The story moves through persecution of Jews, then being forced to the ghetto, then deportation to a concentration camp. It’s well done and presents the horrible facts in a way that children can relate to.
The Holocaust Museum website has so much helpful information if you plan to go. Suggestions for short visits and longer visits, explanations of displays, and history are available. The museum is free, but if you go from March to October, book a timed ticket ahead if possible so you are sure to get in, as it does fill up.
We came out of the Holocaust Museum with so much to think about and in a sober mood. So we walked a few long blocks and came to the Tidal Basin. The beauty of the sunset on the water brought us back to hope and faith. But we will carry in our hearts the reminder – Never forget.
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