On Saturday, December 17th the graduating class of Juniata High School toured Washington, DC as part of our senior trip. One of the most memorable parts of the trip was walking through the Holocaust Museum and experiencing first-hand accounts of those affected by World War II and the Nazi atrocities.
The museum consists of dark, somber exhibits separated by hallways. The first part of the museum includes videos and writings on how the Nazi Party was created and on the rise of Adolf Hitler after World War I. He was a strong public speaker who influenced many people in the early 1900s. The videos presented are real German accounts of political campaigns and riots. Also in the beginning of the museum is a gruesome picture of bones lying upon ash. The images of the dead are visuals that I will never be able to erase from my memory and is why experiencing this museum is so life-changing.
After the introduction to the rise of the Nazi Party, there is a hallway leading into another exhibit with many windows. On these windows are all the names of the cities that were affected by World War II and the Holocaust. Later in the museum, there is a similar wing featuring first names representing those who experienced the concentration camps. As the accompanying sign reads, “The names etched on these glass panels represent Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust; those who served, as well as those who perished.” You do not realize how many suffered until you see each name in front of your face--many thousands of them representing the millions that suffered.
List of affected cities
First names of concentration camp victims
Many artifacts have been preserved and are on display in the museum as well. One room consists of a massive pile of blackened shoes and books that were all taken from the Jews upon arrival at the concentration camps. I also witnessed what these men, women, and children slept in: cold, wired, agonizing “beds”. I include the quotations marks since they didn’t have mattresses, blankets, or even a pillow.
Shoes taken from actual victims of the atrocity
A "bed" that prisoners were provided
In one area of the museum, a box car is on display where visitors are able to walk through and step in the small space that carried thousands of emaciated Jews, stacked on top of each other, from one camp to another.
Train boxcar used to transport Jews to the camps
Near the end of the museum is a clay model of the gas chambers which were disguised as shower rooms to the victims. One commander, Rudolf Hoss, recalls, “I remember a woman who tried to throw her children out of the gas chamber, just as the door was closing, weeping, she called out: At least let my precious children live!” The Nazi army was not hesitant in punishing the children like any other hostage at the camps. I can’t imagine what this mother went through, enduring the gas chambers and losing her beloved children.
Clay model of victims as they march toward the gas chambers
A depiction of gas chamber victims
One of the most heart-wrenching parts of the museum to me was a room titled “Voices of Auschwitz”. This room is a continuous audio recording of Jews who were in the concentration camps and their cries for help. You can visibly hear the pain in their voices and the desperation for any source of hope. Their cries spoke to me and made me realize how blessed I am.
At the conclusion of the museum tour is a room full of candles that are lit in memory of those who were lost in the cruel, horrific years of the Holocaust.
Room of candles honoring the memory of the millions who were lost
When I first experienced this museum, I was astonished by not only how many people were affected but also by the videos that showed the cruel ways in which innocent individuals were murdered. I recommend visiting the Holocaust museum to discover what happened in those concentration camps. Though the images are vivid and sometimes disturbing, I will always remember those innocent victims and will have a greater appreciation for the free world I live in today.