“Never forget.” The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), adjacent to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is dedicated to the documentation, study, and interpretation of Holocaust history.
Opened in 1993, the museum has welcomed almost 50 million visitors in its quest to ensure that people will “never forget” the extermination of 6 million Jews, and other targeted groups, who were persecuted under the regime of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945.
But the museum’s mission extends beyond the Jewish Holocaust. To that end, this interactive memorial, one of the largest in the world, has the stated mission of “helping leaders and citizens of the world confront hatred, prevent genocide, promote human dignity, and strengthen democracy.”
Upon entering the museum, visitors are given an identification card with the name and personal information of an actual person who suffered the horrors of the Holocaust. They become “your person” as a visitor moves through the exhibits—presentations that include Hitler’s rise to power, anti-Semitic propaganda, the horrors of the Final Solution, and more.
With each event, visitors are given updates on their person’s well-being, though their “being” is usually far from well. Relatively few of the persecuted survived the atrocities, though a few of those still living today can be found at the museum, where they share their gripping stories … up close and personal.
The visitor experience is structured as a series of exhibits that include a mix of text, videos, photos, artifacts, and video footage. The third floor focuses on the concentration camps (that includes a room-sized scale model of Auschwitz), where there are artifacts such as a replica of the metal banner over the entrance of Auschwitz, a bunk where prisoners slept in a concentration camp, heartrending pictures drawn by children and dozens of worn-out shoes. In contrast, visitors walk through displays that are a vivid reminder of the vibrancy of Jewish life in Europe pre-Holocaust.
The museum is designed to personalize the story of the Holocaust, and visitors should be prepared for a sobering yet life-altering experience. It stands in deliberate counterpoint to the experiences of an American audience. And while several of the exhibitions are designed for younger audiences, parents should use discretion.
Visitors will also be inspired by the heroic actions of many people, including Christians, who did whatever they could to save their Jewish neighbors. The museum seeks to cultivate understanding and perspective for visitors on the circumstances that allowed this atrocity to happen.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum serves as a clear and present reminder of the dark spiritual forces at play that oppose God’s covenant people, as well as their Jewish homeland, the State of Israel. For that reason alone, it makes a trip to this nontraditional “holy site” a life-changing experience that will leave sober-minded visitors acutely aware of how easily any human can capitulate to the twin evils of self-preservation and fear.
Experience a chilling but necessary, interactive multimedia presentation of the Holocaust while learning sobering lessons of history applicable to today. History that must never be repeated.