Working at the Holocaust Museum: The Impact



holocaust memorial museum childrens tile 3
Creative Commons License photo credit: Mike Murrow
Over at the DailyKos blog, author Greg Mitchell has posted a comment from his daughter, Jeni Mitchell, who worked for a time at the Holocaust Museum that was attacked yesterday:

I worked in Visitor Services and spent a lot of time talking to people both before and after their visits to the museum. It was indelibly striking, the emotion and sincerity with which people spoke to me.

I spoke to survivors of the Holocaust who had been waiting decades to see this kind of museum and memorial, who exhausted every physical strength they had to visit the museum in person. I spoke to veterans who had liberated concentration camps; as a unit, they walked into those horrors in 1945, and as a decimated unit of survivors, they walked into our museum in 1993. I received a package of letters from a Midwestern school: each student had walked through the museum and then written a heartfelt letter of thanks, expressing an idealism unworn by adult confrontation (“We shouldn’t hate anyone,” was a popular sentiment).

In truth, I never spoke to anyone who had been through the main exhibit of the Museum who was not profoundly moved and seriously affected by the experience. This was not a foregone conclusion but the result of the sensitivity and empathy embedded within the exhibit by the curatorial staff, and the raft of educational and cultural programs that supported the Museum’s mission.

I remember, before the Museum opened, there was a great sense of wonder: how many visitors would come? The fact that 2 million people a year walk through the doors shows the visceral attraction of the Museum. People want to know: what happened? how could this happen? could it happen again? what would I have done – and what can I do now? These are not easy questions, but they are among the most important.

I remember vividly my visit to the Museum some years back. Many people there were profoundly moved by the experience. Many of us wept, especially at the children’s drawings and pile of shoes. I highly recommend it to anyone who has not been there. A picture is worth a thousand words, as they say. That certainly goes for the bloody impacts of anti-Semitism, then and now.

Museums like this one play a critical role in teaching all people about the fact that racist words and frames have an impact, words and frames kill. In this case, anti-Semitic and similar racist frames have killed millions. They are still killing, thanks in part to new ways of spreading racist frames such as the Internet.