“Never Again,” Dachau Concentration Camp. Photo by author.
I went to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for the first time this past summer. I wandered the exhibits for the better part of three and a half hours, and what I saw could only be described as revolting, terrifying, and extremely disturbing. Did the exhibits go too far? What is the point of reliving such senseless violence? Do we go to convince ourselves that we would have been better- that we would have stood against it? The whole experience was marked by an incredible range of emotions, and it was one I will not soon forget.
Millions of people have asked the same questions of themselves in the Holocaust Museum. While many fear that the exhibits serve only to distance us from the actual events of the Second World War, it is nearly impossible to find someone who has been to the Holocaust Museum who has not had some sort of intense reaction to what they saw there.
In my opinion, however, what happens at the Holocaust Museum goes far beyond soul-searching. Even though many worry about the potential distance between us and the objects used to tell this story, the Holocaust Museum is not a museum to which we go to relive the past. We can, however, ensure that “never again” means just that. The Holocaust Museum encourages us to look to the future, and to ponder the consequences of hatred and injustice.
What do you think? Should museums try to be advocates for the future, or should they remain rooted in telling the stories of the past?