The US Holocaust Memorial Museum
In 1993, sixty years after Hitler's reign of terror began, the long awaited US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, was dedicated by President William Jefferson Clinton on April 22nd. The date commemorated the 50ieth anniversary of the month-long battle in Poland's Warsaw ghetto uprising, between the Nazis and the Jewish resistance fighters. Ironically, on the opening day of our national museum, which memorializes the genocide of the European Jews, another genocidal religious war was taking place in Europe between the Bosnians and the Serbs.
The museum building, shown in the photo above, which incorporates symbolic design features that are intended to be evocative of the Holocaust, was done in a modern architectural style, which Hitler would have called "degenerate." The USHMM was not designed to be a dull, boring documentation of historical fact, but rather it is intended to be an intensely personal experience in which the building itself is part of the exhibit. Nothing is spared to convey the horror of the Nazi tyranny and the annihilation of the Jews in Europe.
For visitors who know little or nothing about the Holocaust, this is a gut-wrenching experience which could cause nightmares; it is not recommended for children under 11 years of age. However, a special exhibit, called Daniel's Story, which is based on a book of fiction, is designed to introduce children as young as 6 to the basic facts of the Holocaust.
Although the museum is devoted to the darkest chapter in human history, in 2000, it ranked third in popularity among the many attractions in Washington, DC, right after the White House and the Vietnam Wall.
Located at 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place, the museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Christmas Day and Yom Kippur, a Jewish religious holiday which falls on a different day each year, usually in the month of September. Every day, time-stamped tickets to the permanent exhibit are given out free; the line for tickets starts forming around 7:30 a.m. No ticket is necessary for the special exhibits, Daniel's Story, and other parts of the museum, including the Wexler Learning Center where visitors can use touch-screen computers to learn about the Holocaust.
At the beginning of 1933, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, there were 9 million Jews in all of Europe, including 568,417 in Germany, approximately 250,000 in Austria and 3,028,837 in Poland. On January 30, 1933, after he had received 38% of the popular vote in the three-way 1932 German presidential election, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany by newly-reelected President Paul von Hindenburg. Two months later, Franklin D. Roosevelt was sworn in as the president of the United States.
In 1933, both America and Germany were in the throes of the Great Depression, caused by the stock market crash in 1929, but Germany was worse off because of its defeat in the first World War and the devastating terms of the Treaty of Versailles which Germany was forced to sign. Hitler blamed the loss of the war and all of Germany's subsequent economic, social and political problems on the Jews.
Hitler's grandiose plans included the systematic extermination of all the Jews in Europe, and after that, he wanted to establish a museum in Prague where visitors would be able to see artifacts related to the vanished Jewish culture. A valuable torah scroll from the Pinkus Synagogue in Prague, which Hitler was planning to display in his museum of Jewish history, is now one of the exhibits at America's national Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Hitler's first priority was to unite all the ethnic Germans in Europe under one government and one leader, himself. ("Ein Folk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer") There would be no place for Jews or Gypsies in Hitler's new Germany; only the Volkdeutsch (ethnic Germans) would be citizens. Hitler planned to take back German land given to Poland after World War I, as well as the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine and other territory lost as a result of Germany's defeat in World War I. Hitler's new Germany would be called Gross Deutschland (Greater Germany). Historians would call Hitler's regime "the Third Reich." The first Reich was the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation and the second Reich was the unification of the German states in 1871.
The capital of Gross Deutschland was to be Germania, which was Hitler's new name for the city of Berlin. Hitler and his state architect, Albert Speer, began designing magnificent new state buildings in the classic style of Greek and Roman architecture, but none of these buildings were ever built. Hitler envisioned that his nationalist empire, which he called the Thousand Year Reich, would defeat the Communists, and after the demise of the Communists, Germany would be the dominant country in a Jew-free Europe.
Twelve years later, at the end of the World War II, both Hitler and Roosevelt were dead, along with 6 million Jews, which was two-thirds of the total number of Jews in Europe in 1933. Berlin had been reduced to a pile of rubble and Washington, DC was now the undisputed capital of the free world. Hitler's Third Reich will be remembered for a thousand years, but as the empire which tried to destroy the Jews and failed, not as the glorious empire that Hitler had envisioned.
In the aftermath of World War II, Germany was divided into two new countries and Austria became independent again. Germany lost more territory and the ethnic Germans were scattered more than ever before. Soon after the defeat of Germany and its Fascist allies, the eastern half of Germany and all of Eastern Europe came under the control of our allies and Germany's arch enemies, the Communists. In order to hold back the threat of Communism to America, West Germany was made our new ally in 1948 and the Cold War against our former ally, the Communist Soviet Union, became the prime source of anxiety for Americans. During this period, Americans were mainly concerned with building bomb shelters in their back yards, in preparation for the anticipated nuclear war; they had no interest in learning about the destruction of European Jewry in the last war. The word Holocaust was not yet in general use.
Although Palestine was still a British protectorate after World War II, survivors of the Holocaust emigrated there by the thousands. By 1948, the population of Jews in Palestine had reached 600,000 and the new Jewish state of Israel was created. Many Holocaust survivors had emigrated to the United States after World War II, and by 1990, there were 5,981,000 Jews in this country, more than in any other country of the world, including Israel.
For most events in history, memory fades as time passes, but for the Holocaust, it is just the opposite, as American Jews strive to bring the Holocaust to the attention of the public by building museums all across the country. At the year 2000, there were 59 Holocaust museums in America, and more were in the planning stage. Every major American city, including Los Angeles, New York, Houston, and St. Petersburg, has its own Holocaust museum. By 2000, seven states in America had passed laws requiring students to study the Holocaust in public schools.
In 1978, the subject of the Holocaust became popular among Americans when a television mini-series, entitled Holocaust, was seen by 120 million people in this country. A few weeks later, the announcement was made that a national Holocaust memorial was being planned in Washington, DC.
A few heartless anti-Semites have complained that a Holocaust Memorial Museum, built in the shadow of the Washington Monument, is not appropriate for our nation's Capitol, arguing that the Holocaust didn't happen in America; it was not Americans that died in the Holocaust and that Americans were not the perpetrators of the Holocaust in which 6 million European Jews were killed. America has no Museum for the Japanese Americans and German Americans who were put into internments camps during World War II, in violation of the American Constitution. Nor does America have a Museum for the Native Americans killed when Europeans settled in this country. There is not even a Museum in honor of the American soldiers who fought in World War II. So why does America have a Holocaust Museum? The answer is that the Holocaust was the most important event in world history.
After a visit to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2003, school children at this Atlanta school incorporated what they had learned into their math problems.
This page was last updated on September 6, 2009