When I enter a museum – I can put on one of two hats. I can be the budding museum professional my graduate program is preparing me to be or I can suspend my disbelief and morph into a casual museum visitor. One allows me the freedom to examine exhibitions with a critical eye and the other lets me sit back and enjoy the ride. Before I entered the halls of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. I knew that I wanted to explore the space unburdened by a flurry of emotions. It was my first time visiting, and I really wanted to analysis what all the hype was about without getting too invested.
Fortunately, that was not the case. I managed to maintain my composure throughout the main exhibit spaces and thought I was home free, until I stumbled upon Daniel’s Story: Remember the Children. Watching parents and their families follow one Jewish boy’s experience in Nazi Germany prompted many emotions and made me wonder: how do we deal with heavy issues such as the Holocaust in a way that children can connect to? I had not seen any adults crying in the main exhibit space but saw many distressed children trying to understand what happened to Daniel. As I followed this fictitious child from his home to a ghetto and concentration camp, I wondered what roles museums play in helping facilitate difficult discussions within families.
Daniel’s Story: Remember the Children, a special exhibition designed for children ages 8 and older, aims to engage a multi-generational audience and further communication about the Holocaust between parent and child.  But are kids more ready to have these conversations than their parents are? Parents want to protect and shelter their children from the harms and evils of the world – so I can imagine that taking on a subject as loaded as the Holocaust does not come easily. In my mind, it’s akin to having the sex talk – parents can build up difficult conversations so much that communication is overcome by fear of the unknown. Parents don’t know how to start the dialogue. Kids want the facts. Daniel’s Story gives parents a tool to explore a rather large and emotionally charged topic with their children in a safe and monitored environment.
Together, families can explore a chronology of events from pre-Nazi Germany to the Jewish ghettos to the Aushwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Visitors can walk into Daniel’s house from before the war, experience the streets of Germany as he would have, journey with him to the work camps, and follow pages of his diary as it explains the events taking place. The environment is multifaceted and features audio, video, text, photographs, historic objects, and interactives. Visitors learn from the start of the museum experience that Daniel survives to share his story with them. Museum exhibition designer Darcie Fohrman explains on her website that the exhibit is “sensitive to young visitors, telling children what they will see before they see it.”  In this way, the difficult topic of the Holocaust is outlined, explored, and able to be processed by families.
After visitors learn that the American soldiers liberated Daniel and his father from the concentration camp but we not able to save Daniel’s mother and sister, they are led to a reflection room. In this space, children can write letters or draw pictures for Daniel and families can sit to talk about the subject matter. The exhibit gives no inclination to why the Jews were hated so much, so the letters posted around the room reflect everything from encouragement for Daniel to questions not yet answered. How is a child supposed to make sense of something so complex? What responses can parents give? Daniel’s Story does not provide all of the answers, but its interactive nature and thought provoking premise helps bring parents one step closer to educating their children about the truth.