Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Hanukkah Blog 2011: The US Holocaust Museum

Since tonight will be the last night of Hanukkah, I thought I should post one other Jewish-related item we did when we were in DC:  visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  The museum is operated as part of a public-private partnership, where the federal government donated the space, just off the National Mall next to the Building of Printing and Engraving, and private funds paid for the construction costs of the museum.  As well as being a free resource that people can visit to learn about the Holocaust, the museum maintains an active role in education and prevention advocacy about genocide in general, not just a remembrance of the actions of Nazi Germany.

This was the first time I had taken my son to this museum, because it is a grim topic, and the displays can be quite horrific.  So I didn't want to take him until he was old enough to understand and process what he was seeing.  And even though now he is 12, he is still sensitive, particularly to visual images because he is such a visually-oriented person.  So even as a middle schooler, I didn't really want him to focus on the main exhibition of the museum, which is a timeline of the Holocaust of Jewish and other non-Aryan or non-perfect people by the Nazis.

However, there are currently two other exhibits there that I ABSOLUTELY recommend for middle schoolers.  One is called Remember the Children: Daniel's Story, and has been specifically designed for children age 8 and up.  In it, you follow the life of a Jewish boy named Daniel through displays of his life.  He begins life as the son of a shopkeeper, and you visit the home of a typical middle class German family.  Daniel then begins to talk about the increasing discrimination against Jews, then finally their forced relocation, first to a Jewish ghetto, and finally to a concentration camp.  All of this takes place in displays of the various settings, so visitors can see what first a home, then a ghetto, then a concentration camp looks like.  So it does an excellent job of demonstrating what Jewish families went through during those years, but without becoming too depressing or overwhelming for children (apparently, three child pyschologists were involved in developing the exhibit to keep that fine balance).

This exhibit is very well done, and really conveys to children the seriousness of the Holocaust in an age-appropriate way.

The other exhibit we saw was not  designed for children, but was an EXCELLENT way to cover the material with a sensitive middle school.  It was State of Deception:  The Power of Nazi Propaganda.  I can't say enough about this exhibit!  It began with a discussion of what is propaganda, as opposed to, say, advertising or biased journalism or political persuasion.  It then goes through the entire timeline of the Nazi rise to power, control of Germany, war and Holocaust, and eventual defeat--as far as I could tell, it covers the same historical events as the main Holocaust exhibit upstairs.  However, instead of horribly upsetting pictures of tortured, imaceated, or dead families, it uses images from the Nazi propaganda machine.  It basically tells the story of HOW Hitler was able to achieve all that he did....which is fascinating, and in the end, perhaps the most important lesson to be taken from that whole bleak period in our world's history (that is, to make sure it doesn't happen again).   Plus it was the perfect solution for my image-sensitive son--a great way to learn about the entire Nazi regime without having nightmares afterwards.

I learned a lot myself.  For example, I never realized before that Hitler learned all about propaganda from his experience as a World War I soldier at the receiving end of the Allies, particularly American, propaganda.  Hilter believed that it was the propaganda that defeated Germany, not the military resources, and he took everything he learned from the Americans--and more--in molding Germany opinion in line with his goals.

It is an incredibly powerful and insightful exhibit.  So if you happen to be in DC, I highly recommend it.

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