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United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Brandon Gentry

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C. (Brandon Gentry)

    The past three Aprils, my mother and I have been traveling to our nation's capital to celebrate my birthday. This past weekend of April 5-7, 2002 was no different. I traveled to Washington, D.C. on an educational and recreational trip. While visiting the capital, I learned many things which before, had been unknown to me. This year's trip included a visit to the Smithsonian National Zoo, to see the giant panda exhibit, going out to our favorite DC restaurant and a drive-by of the Pentagon. The trip was closed out by a somber visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The Hall of Witness

View from the rear entrance of the Museum. (http://www.ushmm.org/visit/whatinside/images/01.jpg)

   The Holocaust Museum is comprised of two major exhibits (one temporary, dynamic exhibit and one permanent) displaying thousands of stunning real-life artifacts from the time period. Among these artifacts are a real freight-train car, used to transport Jews from various work camps to the Auschwitz death camp, a large pile of shoes labeled as "miniscule" when compared to the original mountain of footwear discovered at the Auschwitz death camp, also on exhibition is a casting of a real archway at Auschwitz with the inscription "Arbeit Macht Frei" ("Work Makes You Free") This archway straddled the entrance gates at Auschwitz to foster the false belief that Auschwitz was yet another work camp. Hitler and his government used many Tactics of trickery to make Jews more susceptible to his cons. When Jews arrived at Auschwitz, the Arbeit Macht Frei gate gave them a false sense of security by making them think they were going to be forced to work rather than killed.

The "Arbeit Macht Frei" gate at Auschwitz, which all attendees of the camp saw upon entering. Jews can be seen in the distance during roll call. Camp residents were forced to present themselves for roll call at least three times each day. (http://www.teachnet-lab.org/FKLANE/pmaslow/arbeitmachtfrei.jpg)

   After passing through the train car and beneath the archway, we came upon a disgusting movie which depicted many of the medical experiments that were done on Jews. Most of these experiments were conducted under the authority of Dr. Mengele, a Physician with the German army. Mengele's experiments were conducted for the sole benefit of his army. Some of these experiments included submerging Jews in freezing water to see how long they could survive, the results were used to create wetsuits for German pilots in case of a crash into the frigid water of northern Europe. 

    The museum contains a number of informative videos about Hitler's early life, and his rise to power, as well as videos about the Nazi's actions throughout the Holocaust. Etched on the glass in suspended walkways between exhibits are the names of the European towns which lost their entire Jewish populations to Hitler's army and the names of nearly every Jew who was murdered during the period. In the conclusion to the exhibition, we passed through a "chimney" of photographs of many victims, this was a touching moment for all visitors in our group as we were left there to contemplate the images. After leaving the chimney, everyone enters the "Hall of Remembrance," a large reflection center, where candles may be purchased in one, six, or twenty-four hour increments to be lit in remembrance of friends and family lost in the horrible event. 

One of four sides of the "Photo Chimney" located at the conclusion of the main exhibit. (Brandon Gentry)

The Hall of Remembrance

The Hall of Remembrance, also located at the conclusion of the main exhibit. (http://www.ushmm.org/museum/a_and_a/inside_c/images/inc1.jpg)

    The museum building was designed to depict images of the Holocaust while also displaying artifacts of the period. The project's head architect visited many Holocaust sites such as camps and ghettos throughout the design process to get a feel for the materials and structure of the buildings. This step was taken to let visitors make their own interpretations and contemplate the architecture, relating it to the history enclosed behind its brick walls. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum will surely leave a permanent mark in the memory of all who visit, I recommend the museum to all those mature enough to view its graphic contents.

    Anyone wishing to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum must first reserve free Timed Passes to insure admittance to the main exhibit, you may do so at tickets.com, or by calling (800) 400-9373. Each day, the Museum distributes on a first-come first-served basis a large but limited number of timed entry passes for use that same day. Even if you cannot get Permanent Exhibition passes for the day you want to come, you can still visit the museums special exhibits and the hall of remembrance as well as the museum shop.

Copyright 2002 - Brandon Gentry