Literacy and Liberty

US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Posted by: , October 3, 2018, 4:54 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

When I was in sixth grade, my ACT class took a field trip to the Holocaust Memorial Museum. It’s a large, gray building and there’s a sobriety in the crowds moving in and out that kept a group of about fifteen 13-year-old kids still and silent. Inside it is noticeably cold and I stayed, throughout the entire visit, hyperaware of the monochromatic concrete surrounding me: the entire museum seems both endless and confining. The first thing that really slammed home what I was looking at was a display of shoes which spanned the length of the room I was in. There were a total of about 11 million people killed during the holocaust, but that’s an almost unimaginable number, and the thousands of shoes laid out in front of me seemed more real than any of the statistics or books– even personal accounts– that we’d studied.

Despite the fact that it was years ago, there is another display at the museum which stands out vividly in my memory. It was much smaller, and walls on all four sides surrounded it. They rose about to my shoulder– I had to stand on my toes to look into the box, and I realize now that such a setup was so that children wouldn’t look in. At the bottom of the box was a video screen; on it played videos of medical experiments and their results, conducted by Dr. Josef Mengele. There was footage of people with extra limbs, physically mutilated and people isolated in rooms so silent or so loud that they were being driven mad, hiding in corners. It went on and on. There was no need to try and imagine those who had suffered or what they had gone through, because it was laid out directly in front of us at every turn. When I walked away I thought I was going to throw up. It was impossible not to see the victims everywhere you looked in the museum-memorial.

That visit was not like any field trip that I had ever been on before– even when we went to the Gettysburg battlefields (which we seemed to do every year) the horrors of what occurred were never truly impressed upon us. I left with a chill in my bones and a metallic ‘Never Forget’ circle pressed into my hand. It was the most effective memorial that I have every visited. Not only did it memorialize the victims, it also educated the viewer so that the events of the past would, hopefully, never be repeated or lost to history.

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I went to a Jewish elementary school. On Holocaust Remembrance day, we had candles and a list of people in the room who had family members who died in it. Some of my family members were on the list, but to me it didn’t feel realistic. It felt like something I was seeing in a movie.

   lubitt 10.03.18 @ 5:26 pm

This really “slammed home” for me. I remember the exact same experience going to the Holocaust Museum, the hall of shoes and the videos of Dr. Mengele are exactly the two things that stuck with me afterward. I agree with you in every part of this and especially that it was one of the if not the most effective memorial I have ever been to.

   Logan Cort 10.04.18 @ 10:56 am

I have never been to the Holocaust Museum, but from the way you describe the monument it seems like a very solemn place. My father is Jewish, therefore I am of Jewish bloodline, and the Holocaust, for me at least, has a greater hold on my heart than most other atrocities committed by humans. That being said, I didn’t have family that died during that time period like you did, so it must be even more real for you. What I found most compelling about your experience is the part where you discussed the shoes that were lined up and how that had a profound affect on you. I could not imagine seeing that in real life. All of those lives are lost and the remnants of them are in the clothes they wore. Very tragic.

   Evan Rosenberg 10.05.18 @ 1:03 pm

This is a really interesting story. I had a similar experience when I was in elementary school and my class took a trip to the state museum in New York and we went to the holocaust memorial and the 9/11 memorial. These sights were so scarring and horrific for us to view was young children, but it was necessary for us to do so that we could truly understand how terrible those events were. Memorials like this are very important.

   Meredith Franchini 10.06.18 @ 12:29 pm

I tried to post a comment several days ago off my cellphone, but I don’t think it stuck!
Here is what I said:
When I was in elementary school my class took a trip to the New York State Museum. That museum has an extensive Holocaust Memorial as well as a 9/11 Memorial. We went to these exhibits at least once every year. At the time it was just exciting to go on a field trip, but looking back you can really see how important it is for young children as well as older individuals to visit these memorials so that the history and horror of these events is not forgotten.

   Meredith 10.07.18 @ 4:01 pm

I could imagine how it was like of museum with your description even if I have never been to there. I agree with you that it makes us remember pain and reflects from history we have been through.

   Julie 10.07.18 @ 4:49 pm

Julia, what a sharp description of how, specifically, the National Holocaust Memorial Museum *works* on its visitors. The material traces of people–things like shoes…–stick with you in a way that mowed, marked battlefields clearly didn’t.

Do proofread!

   Professor Seiler 10.08.18 @ 2:12 pm

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