The Continuing Importance of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Yesterday in class the question arose of whether or not it was the job of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to promote awareness of global acts of inhumanity occurring today, or if its job is to solely tell the story of the Holocaust through the eyes of its Jewish victims.  While I am still unsure of my answer to this question, I can, however, advocate for the continuing importance of having a Holocaust Museum for the American society.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum interior courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has been a source of controversy ever since the commission allowing its creation.  While the reasoning for having a Holocaust museum in America has been under speculation, the main source of controversy has been the level of atrocity exhibited to the public.  The council in charge of creating the museum spent a lot of time determining what level of horror was appropriate for a public audience.  After much debate, the Permanent Exhibition of the museum was completed and is the subject of much academic study.  One theory in particular, known as postmemory, has focused on the atrocity photos exhibited throughout the Permanent Exhibition.  Postmemory has been defined as the transmission through memorialization of a cultural memory of trauma to those who did not witness the event.  The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum influences postmemory among its visitors through the use of architecture, photographs, education, exhibits, public events, directed movement, and through the museum itself. 

We are slowly entering the age where there will be no living survivors and Holocaust memory will only live on through the legacies the survivors have left behind.  As Robert Getso states, “The continuity of Holocaust memory can no longer depend on communities and individuals who experienced victimhood or who met the perpetrators.” [1]  Postmemory, therefore, becomes an important mechanism used to ensure the survival of Holocaust memory.  It is through these second and third generation “rememberers,” that future generations will learn of the Holocaust and the impact it has had upon American society, and the American public.

The exhibits of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum were designed to teach American of the events which led to unbelievable acts of inhumanity and the murder of millions.  Postmemory, the transmission of memory through memorialization of a cultural memory of trauma to those who did not witness the event, plays an important role in maintaining Holocaust memory.  The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum purposely manipulates postmemory in museum goers, and it is my belief that other institutions will also begin to manipulate viewer repsonses in order to ensure an unforgettable connection with history and the past.  Postmemory is becoming the memory of today, the memory of those who do not have firsthand accounts of the events of history.  Postmemory is how we, as the second and third generations, remember the atrocious events of the Holocaust.

[1] Robert Getso, “Revisting Holocaust Memorialization,” Peace Review, v. 19, #2, Apr-June 2007, 249.

2 thoughts on “The Continuing Importance of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

  1. I visited the Holocaust Museum in 2011 and found the story telling to be authentic, respectful and not sensationalised in any way. I believe that it is critical to have documented this piece of history so that future generations will know just how easily ‘evil flourishes when good men do nothing’. It was important to me, a non Jewish baby boomer,to see the similarities between the atrocities that were committed in Europe in the 1930’s and 1940’s and some of the terrible things thst are happening today. I am glad that I visited this museum. Gary Clyne, Western Australi

  2. At the moment, the Lord has laid on my heart to emphasis the need of sermons that are related history, in particularly, Black history. I appreciate your comments about documenting the history of the Holocaust. It is easy for the next generation to forget or not know of a recent past. They would not know what to look for – or – if another similar situation repeated itself – not know what to do until it was too late. C.K.Heath, Cordova, Tennessee

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s