First up is the The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which is truly worth your time. Located near the National Mall and within walking distance from the Smithsonian metro stop, the museum is dedicated to abolishing hatred and genocide. The museum holds both traveling and permanent exhibits. One permanent exhibit is the Hall of Remembrance, a place of quiet and reflection. Visitors can light memorial candles or meditate on the eternal flame. Another permanent exhibit tells the chronological story of the Holocaust, using artifacts, visuals, and first person accounts. One can tell that much thought and effort was put into creating the exhibit, and it can be a very moving experience.
I’ve visited the museum twice and both times had unique experiences. On the first visit, I stopped in the room containing oven doors from a concentration camp. Another visiter, and older woman, turned to me said, “I almost ended up in one of those.” She pulled up her sleeve to reveal her number tattoo. We stood there while she told me her experience living through the Holocaust. Eventually, she moved on with her family and I broke out into tears.
The second time, I was involved in a college production of Joshua Sobol’s play, Ghetto. We visited the museum to help the actors and designers conduct research. One of the characters in the play is a Jewish police officer named Dessler, and we found a document on display bearing the real Dessler’s signature. Seeing a physical reminder that the play was based on real people sent shivers through all of us.
There are other exhibits available in the museum. Some rotate the subject matter, other exhibits display propaganda and tell the story of the Holocaust through a child’s eyes.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is free, although timed passes are required. A limited number can be obtained online in advance for a fee ($1.00), otherwise passes are given out on a first-come, first-served basis on the day of entry.
The Museum’s website provides a lot of information to help plan your visit. It is also a great resource for research on the Holocaust and genocide.