The numbers of lives lost in Europe’s concentration camps in the Second World War quickly becomes numbingly large, and “Holocaust” is the word we use to refer specifically to the the Nazis war machine’s systematic murder, or genocide, of 6 million Jews plus another 5 million people of other religions, ethnicities, and groups who were also slain by Hitler’s regime.
When the Holocaust’s total escalates into the unfathomable, better understanding can often begin when we bring our focus back down to one person’s life: one auntie or son or grandmother … one person whose fate you can learn, another whose life history is made personal … all with a visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
We shall never forget the persecution of so many European Jews and other targets of Nazi extermination, thanks in part to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The museum documents the timeline of the genocide, known also as “Shoah” –the Hebrew word for “catastrophe”– as beginning in 1933 with antisemitic legislation and actions in Germany under Hitler, and lasting through to the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps in 1945.
Beginning with the “Introduction to the Holocaust,” museum visitors see exhibitions that include historical film footage, thousands of photographs, animated maps, oral histories, artifacts and documents. And one ID card. As a visitor, you’ll receive your card, representing the life of one person affected amidst the global conflagration, and as you move from one exhibit to the next, you’ll learn how the details of this one person’s life and experiences match up to the exhibits in front of you, representing the times before and during the Holocaust.
As a visitor, you will learn about the victims, the perpetrators, and the bystanders, as the museum explores the boycott of Jewish businesses, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and the deportation of Jews in Denmark, Greece, and Norway, among other countries, to concentration camps. “The Permanent Exhibition: The Holocaust, a narrative history” takes several hours at minimum, and please be very aware that this is not for the faint of heart or for young children.
Daily programs and activities, along with permanent and special exhibitions are held at the museum, located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Tickets are free and available online (subject to a $1 transaction fee), and it’s strongly suggested that you reserve yours well in advance of your visit if you can, as only a limited number of same-day tickets are available.
Several online learning sites for students are also available. These sites present the chronological sequence of events, so those who come to the museum can further their knowledge later, and those who cannot travel to Washington D.C. can still obtain a great deal of information and understanding. For those who wish to explore certain subjects or specific information, the Holocaust Encyclopedia is another seemingly inexhaustible online resource.
The number of lives lost is so large, and there’s so much to take in — but let it come back down to the one ID card in your hand. Let our remembrance begin with the one, and let our understanding grow infinitely from there.
For more information and details about the museum, visit www.ushmm.org.