By Nicole Henry
The United States Memorial Holocaust Museum is captivating to anyone who steps through the doors. It not only serves as a dedication to those who lost their lives, but it also is an educational experience for people passing through the glass doors and up the elevator to the main exhibit to see how it all happened from the very beginning. You can find information about the Holocaust as well as pictures of artifacts, maps, and historical film footage at the museum’s website.
Before you go up the elevator that takes you to the start of exhibit, you take a card that describes a boy or girl who was a victim of the Holocaust. It tells you their name and some of their personal history. On the last page of the card, it tells you if they lived or died. The girl from Poland that I chose was one of the lucky few. She wasn’t the normal target of the Nazis. She fell in love with a man who was deemed a Jew; her employer found out and turned her into the Gestapo. She spent almost two years in Auschwitz before it was liberated, and she emigrated to the U.S in 1948.
As you move through the exhibit, you see not only artifacts behind a glass case but also video footage. Most have subtitles because a lot of it is in German. The images of Adolf Hitler and his followers flash in front of you. As you go through the museum, you are presented with images of bodies: fragile, starved, dehydrated and tortured. Their hollow eyes stare back at you from the screens. Throughout the museum, you also see video of survivors looking back at their experience. They tell stories of the concentration camps, of seeing people split into two lines, of smelling the burning human flesh, and how they never saw their friends or family again. The impact of this hit me like a bulldozer. Several times throughout the exhibit, I had to compose myself.
As you continue your journey through the museum, you find yourself in subsections of the exhibit. In one section, you walk into a room and all you see scattered on the floor are shoes. They represent millions of shoes that were taken from victims as they were sent to the gas chambers to be killed. You will also find cases of various other belongings, which victims were stripped of upon their arrival at the camps.
Between the exhibits, you will find yourself in rooms of pictures and portraits covering the walls. This collection of photographs portrays people and their families before this tragedy.
For me, one of the most emotional parts of the exhibit was when I walked by the recreations of the ovens that the Nazis used to cremate their victims after they were gassed. Seeing that hit harder for me than some of the other parts of the exhibit. Another part of the exhibit that truly makes things come to life is one of the boxcars that people were shipped in to the camps. You stand in the middle of the car and just can’t help but think about how 100 or more people could fit in such a cramped space. The part of the exhibit that made me stop dead in my tracks is where scientific experiments that were performed on victims were depicted. One experiment was to expose victims to high air pressure so they could develop better body suits for German pilots. I became speechless, and I felt as though I was processing what I saw later that afternoon.
This museum affected me more than anything else because my grandmother survived living in Nazi Germany. To the best of my knowledge, she was never in a camp. She did refuse to talk about it. She never said a word, and she tried to pretend it never happened. Seeing everything in that museum made me stop and think what my grandmother and millions of others saw. You truly get a glimpse of what they suffered through, and it only scrapes the surface. The Holocaust Museum will be one of the most emotional museums you will ever visit.