Truly, there are no words to describe the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. A somber feeling is palpable upon first entering the four-story building in downtown D.C. Each visitor is handed a little booklet with someone who was a victim of the Holocaust.
Each floor of the museum has a different focus. The fourth floor covers the beginning of the Holocaust, the third floor covers what happened throughout the war, and the second floor covers the end of the war and the aftermath. After finishing looking at each floor, visitors could flip a page in the booklet that told the story about the person involved in the Holocaust. At the end of the exhibit, you could flip over to the last page in the booklet, and see whether that particular person survived or died as well as whether that person managed to escape to another country or reconnected with what was left of the family. Many did not survive. There were some who were the lucky few who did survive and even fewer people managed to escape before persecution altogether.
By the time visitors enter the first floor where the main entrance is, the lights are open and are streaming through the windows. The feeling was almost a mix between relief and guilt—guilt mostly predominant due to the relief from being away from the emotionally overwhelming exhibits, and being able to step in the light to breathe.
The museum’s floors are quiet and dim; the visitors are silently respectful. All displays of lightheartedness are quickly showered down with a more appropriate, solemn mood. The voices of both the victims and survivors echo through the halls, their names forever etched in the walls of the hallways connecting between the floors. Stories of hope, loss, regret and redemption fill the air between the exhibits.
One exhibit shows a child’s train set that was left behind before he was sent to the ghettos. Another exhibit displays the shoes taken from the prisoners and the shaved hair that the Nazis had also taken from them. One of the permanent exhibits shows the rail car that took the passengers from their homes and to concentration camps on where they were forced to wear blue striped pajamas and caps. The exhibit also demonstrated in how the prisoners were treated even less than animals, often starved to death, beaten mercilessly and other such horrendous crimes. Husbands, wives, children, infants, family members were murdered. The intensity of the exhibits are intensely powerful, both evoking strong emotions yet providing a clearer insight on the sort of world that we live in today.
The museum is among many throughout the world dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust. They exist in the hopes that future generations will not ever and should not ever forget the victims. In a sense, it is also a warning for those of future generations of how powerful hatred and propaganda can be. The Holocaust is a prime example of one of the darkest times in human history.
Among all the devastation, there is some hope. There is also a wall with etched names of those who helped hide Jewish families on the run from persecution. Not only should we remember the victims of the Holocaust, but we should remember those who stood up for what was right, putting their lives and their own family members lives at risk of being found out. Most of all, we should remember the brave and follow by their example.