One of the most visited museums in Washington, D.C. is dedicated to the Holocaust, the state-led systematic persecution and murder of approximately six million Jews during World War II by Nazi Germany and its collaborators. VOA's Jim Bertel has more on this monument to one of human history's darkest chapters.
Since it opened in 1993, more than 23 million people, including dozens of world leaders, have toured the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Many have described it as one of the most powerful experiences in Washington.
Sara Bloomfield is the museum's Director. She says, "It is meant to be a reflection on human history, on American history and also on human nature. And to encourage our visitors to think more about their own moral responsibilities in our world."
Visitors are taken back in time to the World War Two era, experiencing the conditions of life then, the Nazis' rise to power, the war, and the aftermath. Through it all, Bloomfield says the Germans kept careful records of their reign of terror on the Jews.
"The Germans themselves documented their crimes and regarding the documentation of the crimes, this is probably the most well documented crime in human history. And they left thousands of photographs, millions of pages of documentary evidence that we have in the museum's archives."
One of the museum's goals is to remind visitors that the Holocaust was not about statistics but people and it tries to return individual identity to the victims.
From room to room visitors are immersed deeper and deeper into the horrors of the holocaust. In the "Tower of Faces" pictures depicting the ordinary lives of Jews in a small town on the Polish-Lithuanian border cover the walls.
"This Jewish community had lived in this town for 900 years,” explains the museum director. “And in two days, in September 1941, this entire community was destroyed by mobile killing units sent in behind the German army."
It is estimated more than a million children were killed during the Holocaust, including Anne Frank who kept a diary during her two years in hiding.
"I've heard it said that after the Bible and the Koran it's one of the most well-read works of non-fiction in the world. And it is still a very powerful testament to a young child's experience and to really what was lost," says Bloomfield.
As she walks through the museum, Bloomfield shows how the exhibits go beyond words and pictures, giving visitors a first-hand look at some of the inhumane conditions endured by Jews.
“You would have, for example, a hundred people in a railroad car like this for anywhere from up to one to three days with no sanitation, no food. As you can imagine, many people did not survive the deportation itself.”
The Holocaust Memorial Museum vividly recounts the horrors endured by the Holocaust's victims. Many visitors are shocked by what they see. But the museum's curators believe this is a good thing and hope this translates into a willingness to do something about similar horrors in the world today.