Some Were Neighbors

On my recent visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), I was overwhelmed with its presentation, both in the permanent exhibit as well as the special exhibit, Some Were Neighbors. After reading about the process behind the design of the USHMM for class, I attempted to spend my visit divided between analyzing the museum and immersing myself in the experience. It was difficult not to be completely immersed, for every aspect of the museum draws you in.

From the minute I stepped off the elevator into the first room, I realized I was in for an emotional and thought provoking visit. Despite the crowds of people, the permanent exhibit space was very quiet and dark, allowing no escape from the heavy subject matter. Like we discussed in class, the exhibition was a blend of text describing the overall events, as well as personal accounts and objects. This created a very powerful narrative because it gave historical and personal context of the Holocaust.

One of the most powerful parts of the USHMM was the special exhibit, Some Were Neighbors. The exhibit tells the story of the people who witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust and either collaborated with Nazis or made the choice to stand up to them. The exhibit included various sections that recounted experiences of neighbors, workers, teenagers, policemen, religious leaders, teachers, and friends throughout the Holocaust. Supplementary to the text and artifacts, there were many videos playing of people recounting their experience during the Holocaust. There is also a very interactive resource available online to supplement the physical exhibit, here. [2] Some Were Neighbors really makes you think about the difficult choices people had to make.

Think - USHMM
Exterior of USHMM.

Because we are far removed from the situation, it is somewhat difficult to understand how so many people cooperated with the Nazi movement and perpetuated a massive genocide. However, like we saw in Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, Some Were Neighbors provides the context necessary to get a closer look behind motivations, including being influenced by fear and propaganda. While the complicity of many is not something to be taken lightly, it does provide a shocking parallel to contemporary society. Throughout my visit to the USHMM, I could not shake the question of “what would I do if I was in this situation?” As we explored in class, many genocides have occurred since the Holocaust, and it is our responsibility to make strides to prevent them in the future.

One of the last things you see as you leave the USHMM’s permanent exhibit is a text panel with a quote by Protestant Pastor Martin Niemöller reading, “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” [1] Every time I read this quote I am reminded of the role each of us plays in the world we live in. It is essential that we are aware of what is happening in the world around us, and especially take a stand against those who are threatening civil rights. Like the button I bought at the gift store state, what you do matters.Despite the many years that have passed since the Holocaust, we still have so much to learn.


[1] USHMM 

[2] Some Were Neighbors, USHMM 


Featured: The United States Holocaust Museum,

Think About What You Saw Text Panel,

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