The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington D.C. opened its doors to an anxiously awaiting public in April, 1993. The mission of the USHMM is to act as, “America’s national institution for the documentation, study, and interpretation of Holocaust history, and serves as this county’s memorial to the millions of people murdered during the Holocaust.”  The museum works to construct this narrative using powerful images, interesting artifacts, and thought-provoking text. The museum presents this history in a purposefully designed structure that also conveys meaning to the visitor.
Architect James Ingo Freed worked to remove visitors form the busy D.C. metro area and place them in a haunting space. In his article, Understanding the Holocaust Through the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Jeffrey Karl Ochsner describes Freed’s approach. Freed, “chose to draw on the forms and the details of nineteenth and early-twentieth century industrial architecture – the architectural language found in the death camp buildings.”  This dark place of inspiration created an architectural design that starts the visitor on the journey through Holocaust history well before they read the introductory text panel.
Edward T. Linenthal outlines how the exhibition development team at the USHMM was able to work with the industrial styled architecture. They were able, not only to convey the history of the Holocaust, but to immerse the visitor to create meaning. Linenthal writes in his work, Preserving Memory: The Struggle to Create America’s Holocaust Museum, “the design team believed that the interior mood had to be ‘visceral’ enough so that visitors would gain no respite from the narrative.”  The team at Ralph Applebaum Associates, was charged with designing the permanent exhibition. They worked within Freed’s structure to form spaces that would elicit strong reactions for the public. For example, the introduction to the death camp subject matter, has spaces that are “tight and mean.” They ledt walls unpainted, pipes exposed, and implemented dramatic lighting. There would be no escape from the subject matter in these areas, as the stories pressed in around the visitor.
The Tower of Faces is one of the most powerful displays in the museum; it showcases the collaboration between architect and exhibition content. The Tower rises three stories within the museum and contains just over 1,000 images from a single donor – the Yaffa Eliach Shtetl Collection. The photographs were acquired by Yaffa Eliach, and portray the Jews of her childhood shtetl or town in Lithuania. During World War II, the German mobile killing squads killed approximately 4,000 of the town’s inhabitants. Only twenty-nine of those living in the village survived, including four year-old Yaffa. 
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is a moving place. Here, the horrors of the past are on full display for the visitor to experience. Through a successful collaboration of architectural style and exhibition design, those stories can begin to take shape. Those faces on display, not just within the Tower but also throughout the building can be viewed as more than just victims of a senseless tragedy. They can be given a story, a life. From darkened, and ominous, exhibit spaces to the solemn Hall of Remembrance, the spaces within the USHMM are powerful triggers of emotion. This speaks to the successful union of design and the content interaction. Today, the museum serves as a vital reminder to the nation and the globe about the important fight against hatred, as relevant now as ever.
 The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, website, accessed March 1, 2016. https://www.ushmm.org
 Ochsner, Jeffrey Karl. 1995. “Understanding the Holocaust Through the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.” Journal of Architectural Education. 4(48): 246.
 Linenthal, Edward T. Preserving Memory: The Struggle to Create America’s Holocaust Museum. (Penguin Books, 1997), 169.
 Ibid., 176.
The United States Holocaust Museum, http://bit.ly/1ONUbew
Think About What You Saw Text Panel, http://bit.ly/1TPMxZ3
Featured: Tower of Faces, http://bit.ly/1LvGOF3