They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Imagine, then, hundreds of pictures of young adults, members of society who will all be dead in just a few years. This image is one of many displayed at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is located in Washington, D.C. The museum uses art, photographs, posters and artifacts to depict the Holocaust and its aftermath.
The exhibits are organized into three phases. The first, 1933 to 1939, is the Nazi Assault. During this period, Hitler was the Chancellor of Germany, but he was not yet a dictator. Jews were forced to live in ghettos and faced job discrimination and brutal assaults such as Kristallnacht. Some Jews were able to leave the country, but many lacked the resources to flee. Others stayed because they simply could not believe their own countrymen would really harm them. They heard Hitler’s rhetoric but saw it as just that — talk without merit.
The next phase, 1940 to 1945, is called the Final Solution. By this time, the German President had died, and Hitler had declared himself a dictator. Hitler, the SS and the German government all spoke out in favor of the extermination of all Jews in Europe. By 1941, the Chelmno Killing Center had opened. There were four other such camps in Poland that existed for the sole purpose of murdering Jews. In addition, there were the concentration camps where Jews were often worked to death or put to death. This section of the museum features oral testimonials about life in the camps.
The final phase of the exhibition is called the Last Chapter and deals with the liberation of concentration and death camps. It features video testimonials of survivors about how living through such a terrible experience affected their lives.
In addition to the permanent exhibit described above, the USHMM also features guest exhibits. One recent exhibit provided art dealing with the resistance and the high price people paid for standing up to the Nazis. An exhibit that is going on as of May 2017 is called Antisemitism in Everyday Life. It shows posters, toys and piggy banks that depict Jews in negative ways — greedy, cowardly, long-nosed.
In addition to the exhibits available in the museum, the USHMM has an amazing website filled with photographs and written information.
When a large number of people are slaughtered, it can be hard to comprehend the tragedy. Thinking of six million people dead can almost make you numb. Actually hearing the voices and seeing the faces of the people who died or hearing the horrific stories of those who survived turns numbers into names. As it has been famously said, closing our eyes to the lessons of history ensures that we will repeat them. Exhibits such as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum give us the gift of a more humane future.