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Jewish Journal

Holocaust Memorial DC

Pavel Pustelnik

February 24, 2013 | 11:19 pm

Never again – this is probably the best name for a museum that was created to commemorate Holocaust.

Outside the building is cold and rough. The walls are not welcoming, even if touched by dazzling February sun. The very end of Mall, not far away from waterfront, in the immediate vicinity of the Washington Monument - the US Holocaust Memorial Museum is located somehow aside, just not to spoil the merry atmosphere of the National Air and Space Museum or the National Museum of American History Police around, “Taste your water, Sir” at the security, which is not unusual in the US, but still uncommon when entering a museum.

The main bright hall does not announce the traumatic content of the museum. There is a lot of space, it seems that the building is breathing and enjoying the sun as if it was alive. In order to enter the exhibition, guests are asked to enter a large elevator. It is not obvious if it was an intention of the constructors, but being crowded on a small space starts to bring some associations. First floor, second, third. The elevator does not hurry.

The three floors of the Holocaust Memorial Museum are incredibly packed and as you walk the rooms, artifacts, life stories and pictures weave the perplexing history of genocide that happened in Europe. The authors of the permanent exhibition decided to offer most of the information in the first rooms so that the visitors understand what they are going to see later. Large print boards, movies and pictures that set the scene for the next rooms. At the beginning you feel the urge to take notes, to remember, to know, to have the number at hand, but after some time it becomes fastidious, impossible, pointless.

The Museum unfolds the story chronologically. Paradoxically, the more you know the more you believe that there will be a happy end. Perhaps the whole death-fuelled machine will break at some point. It will just stop digesting the atrocities. This is obviously not the case. Next room. The broadcast is becoming more and more brutal. Some of the screens are protected in a way that children cannot see the content. The machine works and is well oiled. A room filled with shoes brought from Auschwitz, the foul smell that is so omnipresent at the original site, people starting to break down in tears.

The US site is not too interactive as it should not be. It is painfully explicit and educating in all three parts it offers: “Nazi Assault,” “Final Solution,” and “Last Chapter”. Each visitor experiences different range of emotions. Without a shadow of a doubt, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum leaves you with many questions, the most basic being “How was this possible?” The answers given by the Museum’s narrative are straightforward but still, you just want to question the nature of a human being, if Holocaust was possible.

Facts:

More than 34.1 million people visited the Museum since it opened in April 1993. There are more than 16,385 objects gathered, with an average of six to seven new items acquired each week. The US Holocaust Memorial employs 400 people.

(more pics here)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Jews visiting Central & Eastern Europe frequently come with stereotypes and prejudices about the region.  In particular, group heritage and education tours for young Jews...

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