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United States Holocaust Museum Memorial

The United States' official memorial to the Holocaust located in Washington DC.

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Never Shall I Forget Those Flames Which Consumed My Faith Forever - Elie Weisel

  • Dec 22, 2009
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Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed.  Never shall I forget that smoke.  Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.

Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.

Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live.  Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust.  Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God himself.  Never.

A plaque with this inscription, by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, was posted at one of the exhibits at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum shedding a small ray of light on the dark place of an eloquent survivor of Auschwitz.  I cannot remember if this plaque was placed by the bales of human hair that was sold in forty pound bales for boat bumpers and other use, or if it was at the exhibit with hundreds of shoes.  I can only remember being moved to tears at the succinct anguish captured by Wiesel's words.  Weisel had other things to say on this topic, but the most important was "For the dead and the living we must bear witness."  That is the purpose of this somber, breath-stealing museum.  To bear witness to unmentionable atrocities that some already try to claim never happened (or are exaggerated).  Then General Dwight D. Eisenhower understood that people would one day deny the Holocaust.  On April 15, 1945, General Eisenhower stated "I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to propaganda.'" 

I normally present my reviews in a chronological order, but felt the need to express the mood of this museum first.  The quotes of first hand witnesses and survivors are the only way this dark period in our history can really be conveyed.  In order to bring that element to bear on these exhibits, quotes and videos are used extensively.  Some of the videos are hard to watch, and anyone who can watch them and not be moved, is simply not human.  The graphic films are sensibly placed on video screens in recessed areas that require a certain height to view.  This was a wise concept employed to deliver the stark truth of the holocaust while allowing a degree of reserve for younger visitors.  But this is not Disneyland.  Young visitors are still certain to be shocked by the exhibits.  I remember meeting Corrie Ten Boom as a youngster, and listening to her biography, which were made into both a book and movie called The Hiding Place.  That was my first exposure to the holocaust, and I remember that it had a profound impact on me.  United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has been on my radar for a long time.  A combination of intentional avoidance and schedule conflicts have postponed my visit until my most recent trip to Washington D.C.  I regret that I waited so long for this experience.

First and foremost, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is funded by the generous donations of supporters.  For visitors, it is free.  It will require an emotional investment, a few hours of your time, and you are welcome to drop money into a donation box tastefully located outside the exhibit area.  Passes are available beginning at 10 am.  The passes are timed in fifteen minute intervals until 3:45 pm.  The museum closes at 5:30 pm, but the videos shut down around 5:15 pm as visitors are encouraged to begin exiting the exhibit area.  I arrived at 3:30 pm and was not required to obtain a pass (I visited in November, which is certain to be more favorable to unplanned visits).  The two hours I allotted for this museum was not quite enough.  I would suggest three hours to fully experience the museum, slightly more if you intend to also screen the fifteen minute documentary videos.

When you enter the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, you will be required to submit to a security screening. After the screening, you are instructed to proceed to a set of elevators where stacks of Identification cards are located.  Prior to taking the elevator to the fourth floor, each visitor takes an Identification booklet.  Mine gave a brief history of Dora Rivkina who was born November 7, 1924 in Minsk, Belorussia.  Dora was athletic and enjoyed swimming and dancing.  In 1941, with the arrival of German's in Minsk, Dora and her family were forced into the Minsk ghetto.  When the ghetto was emptied in 1943, Dora escaped and joined the partisan resistance.  The group Dora joined was captured and Dora was identified as a Jew.  The Germans tied a rock around Dora's neck, bound her hands, threw Dora into a river and shot her.  Dora was one of six million Jews senselessly slaughtered.  I finished reading about Dora as the elevator opened on the Fourth Floor.  A video was playing in the background, but my focus was on my personal Identification card during the brief ride up.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum begins on the Fourth Floor, with exhibits working clockwise around each floor, where a set of stairs leads down to the next level of exhibits.  Wheelchair access is available if needed.  The floors are set up chronologically, beginning with the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party, the Final Solution, Liberation and Remembrance.

The elevator dumps visitors out into a small room facing the large image of soldiers observing a fire pit.  Closer examination reveals scorched human bodies amongst the timber.  The large stone wall to the right of the image simply says "The Holocaust."  From there, the exhibits begin to the right.  As you walk through the exhibits, videos tell a variety of stories regarding Nazi propaganda and the increasing popularity of Nazi beliefs.  Some of the exhibits extend between floors.  Concepts like hair color and eye color (along with actual charts and hair samples) that were used to determine the degree of "Aryanism" demonstrate the gradual thinking that was being elevated leading up to the war.  Maps showing the increasing ground occupied by the Germans demonstrate the rapid spread of German influence.  The Fourth Floor ends with an introduction to the Final Solution, depicting the secret program, which was initially secretly carried out against the mentally and physically disabled.  There is a small area on the back portion of the fourth floor with a few exhibits and hundreds of photographs.

The Third Floor immerses visitors in the Final Solution, where the Nazis graduated from persecution to genocide.  One wall of the third floor has glassed a glassed in area where survivor testimony has been immortalized for visitors to hear first-hand accounts of the atrocities.  The exhibit is called Voices from Auschwitz.  Concentration camp life is fully explored on this floor, which includes a rail car and actual living quarters from one of the camps.  There were two videos on this floor that suffocated me.  These grainy but graphic videos give less than a glimpse into the horrors, but were exhausting enough to emotionally drain me.  The videos left me feeling drained.

The Second Floor contains the last chapter of liberation.  It is marked by a memorable quote from Martin Niemoller, an anti-Nazi German pastor.  Niemoller stated "First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out - Because I was not a socialist.  Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a trade unionist.  Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - Because I was not a Jew.  Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me."  Niemoller captured the crux of the Nazi rise.  Good men did nothing as the Nazi's seized power and pushed forward with their warped ideology.  The displays in this exhibit depict the good things that people DID accomplish prior to liberation, as well as the liberation itself.  From the French town of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon which simply chose to hide Jews to the Danish who refused to single out Jews as instructed (and organized a nearly overnight rescue of 7,000 Jews by boat when forced to deport Jews to the camps).  If my memory serves me correctly, with many Jews deported in spite of the Danish efforts, only about 70 did not survive the war.  A large central wall indicates individuals who made extraordinary sacrifices to counter the Final Solution.  As I was working my way through these exhibits, the monitors were shut down and we were ushered out.  I was unable to visit the testimony theater.  Beyond the exhibit area is a Hall of Remembrance.  An eternal flame burns inside the hall and visitors are admonished to observe silence here...something that seemed intuitive.  I heard barely a peep in the two hours I worked my way through the exhibits.  Because of the time, the Hall of Remembrance was also closed.

The exhibits give way to a small gift shop and the Wexner Learning Center.  Moving past these exhibits leads back down to the First Floor where a visitors desk is located.  A Hall of Witness and Daniel's Story exhibit are also located on the main level.  There is a lower level which features the Meyerhoff theater, an auditorium, an education center and a wall comprised of 3,000 tiles created by school children.

Some other things to consider:

-Tickets may be obtained in advance by visiting www.tickets.com or calling 800-400-9373.  There is a small ticketing fee for this service.

-Donations are accepted in the Hall of Witness on the First Floor at the Donor and Membership Desk.  There is also a donation box.

-For a quick bite to eat, there is a Museum Cafe outside the entrance in the Ross Administrative Center building.  The cafe is open from 8:30 am until 4:30 pm.

-Restrooms are located at various points throughout the exhibits and on the lower level, where baby changing stations and companion restrooms are also available.

-There is a Coat Check on the first floor for coats, packages and small children.  Okay...not children...but the other stuff you don't want to lug through the exhibit.

-The Holocaust Museum does not permit eating, drinking or smoking inside the building.

-No video or audio recording is permitted.

-Be sensitive to other visitors.  Turn your cell phone off or to vibrate...and do not take calls in the exhibits.

-The museum is located very close (about one block) from the Metro.  Both the Orange and Blue lines run together through this stretch of Washington D.C.

-The Bureau of Engraving and Printing does tours and starts a bit earlier than the museum.  The building is located less than a block from the museum.

"In Italy, the country where fascism was born, we have a particular relation with the Holocaust, but as a turning point in history it belongs to everybody in the world. It is a part of humanity."  This was a quote from Roberto Benigni that summarizes my own feelings about the Holocaust.  We all own it.  And we are all responsible to prevent anything like it from ever happening again.  The best way to accomplish that is to educate people on the reality of the horrors and atrocities that we euphemise with such a simple word "holocaust."  The word doesn't convey the meaning even remotely close to the experience of visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial MuseumEvery human should visit this vivid reminder of human suffering to understand the ramifications of complacency. 
Never Shall I Forget Those Flames Which Consumed My Faith Forever - Elie Weisel

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April 12, 2011
Great write-up and a definite must-see. I haven't made it there yet but, I hope to one day! Thanks for sharing :)
August 21, 2010
A Great review!!! I have been to the museum several times. You are so correct in stipulating that one has to make a big "emotional' investment in this visit. If there isn't something there that doesn't make you shed a tear then you are emotionally dead!!! Take it from me, a big tough retired army officer and combat veteran!!! Whether it is the pile of shoes, hair, pictures of the inhabitants of an entire shtetl that had been exterminated from existence or the filmed testimony of survivors and camp liberators there is plenty of emotional places that one will be confronted with one of the greatest horrors of history!!
February 02, 2010
My brother in law is Jewish so this is close to our hearts. Nice Job!
December 23, 2009
Truly, this is an amazing review. Wonderful job!
December 24, 2009
Thank you.
December 23, 2009
Wow! What a powerful review. This must have been an incredibly moving experience. Had never heard very much about this before. Thanks for an eye-opening piece!
December 23, 2009
Thanks for commenting. It was a powerful experience more than a powerful review. The experience must have found its way into the review itself. It is a humbling mind-numbing emotionally draining visit that should not be missed.
December 23, 2009
Thank you for all those very helpful tips!  But most of all, thanks for giving us a glimpse of what visitors might expect and should prepare themselves for.  This sounds like a heavy, humbling, and, sometimes gut wrenching, experience, but I think it's one that everyone needs to see at least once in their life time.

I don't know if you've ever read Elie Weisel's book, Night, before, but that's where that quote is from, and they couldn't have picked a better one for that plaque.
December 23, 2009
I have not read "Night." I guess that is another book for my book queue. The movie queue moves much faster!
December 23, 2009
Haha, I wonder why! But yes, Night is a must read. The feelings that you get reading it sound kind of like the feelings you get walking through this museum.
December 23, 2009
awesome write up! I need to visit this one day. But no way am I getting the tickets from ticketmaster! they suck!
December 23, 2009
I don't use ticketmaster for anything, either. It worked out for me to get admission right from the front door, but I went on a slow day. Getting there early during the busier Summer months will probably ensure you get a free ticket, but you will likely have to come back at a scheduled time. Thanks for the comments.
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Quick Tip by . August 21, 2010
I have been to the museum several times and each time my attention is drawn to something significant that I had not noticed previously. Emotionally, this museum is significant to me. I am Jewish, my grandmother lost both her parents, 9 brothers and sisters in Poland. On my father's side of the family we lost at least 14 cousins in Hungary and Romania.      However, I have found from others that even if one doesn't have a "connection" like mine one will still …
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The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) is the United States' official memorial to the Holocaust. Adjacent to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the USHMM provides for the documentation, study, and interpretation of Holocaust history. It is dedicated to helping leaders and citizens of the world confront hatred, prevent genocide, promote human dignity, and strengthen democracy.

With an operating budget of just under $79.7 million ($47.3 million from Federal sources and $31.4 million from private donations) in 2008, the Museum has a staff of about 400 employees, 125 contractors, 650 volunteers, 91 Holocaust survivors, and 175,000 members. It has local offices in New York, Boston, Boca Raton, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Dallas.

Since its dedication on April 22, 1993, the Museum has welcomed nearly 30 million visitors, including more than 8 million school children. It has also welcomed 88 heads of state and more than 3,500 foreign officials from over 132 countries. The Museum's visitors come from all over the world, and more than 90 percent of the Museum's visitors are not Jewish. Its website had 25 million visits in 2008 from an average of 100 different countries daily. 35% of these visits were from outside the United States, including more than 238,000 visits from Muslim-majority countries.

The USHMM’s collections contain more than 12,750 artifacts, 49 million pages of archival documents, 80,000 historical photographs, 200,000 registered survivors, 1,000 ...
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