The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. has seen a lot of controversy since the idea to build it was conceived. Some people question the decision to have a Holocaust museum in the United States (as opposed to Europe); others question whether a memorial alone would make more sense, as opposed to a museum. The intent of the Museum seemed to be to help visitors better understand the Holocaust and the victims, and the objects were to play a secondary role; however, there are some that argue that the objects are used for shock value, which overpowers the museum’s goal to “preserve the memory of those who suffered.” (1) In his article “Behold Now Behemoth,” Philip Gourevitch calls the photographs and videos of the Museum a “constant recycling of slaughter” and questions the value in making survivors relive the horrors they endured in the Holocaust again in the museum that was created to remember them. (2) In his article “Understanding the Holocaust through The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum,” Jeffrey Karl Ochsner argues that some of the objects, such as the tower of photographs and the collection of shoes, are presented in such a dramatized way that they interfere with visitors identifying with the victims: they become objects that can detach the viewer from the material, rather than connect. (3)
The Museum’s content raises questions of its own: how could the Holocaust happen? How can humans be so inhumane to one another? But perhaps the fact that we are asking these questions at all means that we can continually reevaluate our perspectives on both the past and the future, and work to bring out the best of humanity.
- “Mission Statement,” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, October 14, 2013, http://www.ushmm.org/information/about-the-museum/mission-statement
- Philip Gourevitch, “Behold Now Behemoth,” Harper’s Magazine 287, no. 1718 (July 1993): 8.
- Jeffrey Karl Ochsner, “Understanding the Holocaust through the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum,” Journal of Architectural Education 48, no. 4 (May 1995): 242-244.