the wonderful world of veena.

25 September 2014

veen on the road: the holocaust museum.

Following my visit to the Poe Museum, I walked the two blocks down to the Holocaust Museum to have a look around. It was a very interesting museum, to say the least, but I would recommend visiting it with caution.

The exhibits in the Museum are very interesting - especially crawling through the tunnel to simulate what it would have been like to do so as a Jew in hiding - and having the tour narrated by a Holocaust survivor was extremely moving, but I couldn't help but feel as though the museum never really focused itself.

[the audio guide explains all the meanings behind this: the candles, the menorah, the star of david, the red tips of the star, why it's broken, and the barbed wire. i cannot remember all of it, and i would hate to misrepresent it, but i remember finding it very interesting]
As I mentioned, the audio guide is narrated by a survivor of the time, so most of it is his own personal story. It is very moving and thought-provoking, and there were moments in his narrative when I was moved to tears. The downfall of that, however, is that there is no clear focus. The beginning of the tour is set up as a train depot, to simulate traveling through the history of the persecution of Europe's Jewish citizens, and as you travel along you hear the stories of concentration camps, Kristallnacht, and what it was like to grow up in the ghettos, but I found it to be very disjointed.

The parts of the exhibit that had the greatest impact on me were the simulations - the afore-mentioned crawling through the tunnel, the replica of a boxcar that would have transported Jews from ghettos to labour camps, and the gas chamber that gave me the shivers and which I literally ran out of because it freaked me out so much.

[entering the main exhibit]
I feel bad complaining about the museum, because I think the Holocaust and the persecution of the Jews was an important part of history and one that everyone should learn about, but I do have a few not-so-positive things to say. First and foremost, it took a long time to walk through. Too long, in my opinion. All told, the narrative took close to an hour-and-a-half, and I just didn't feel like the space was large enough to necessitate that. There were a few rooms I passed through quickly and fast-forwarded on the audio guide, because it was taking so long. I felt really bad doing that, but I couldn't help it, my attention was fading fast. I feel like it would be much more effective to allow for self-guiding with boards to read throughout the museum, with smaller bits of the oral histories woven into the applicable places.

Also, from a purely prejudicial standpoint, I couldn't stop myself from comparing this museum to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC. I know it's not fair to do so, but having visited the museum in DC twice, it was difficult not to. The history wasn't quite as comprehensive here, the exhibits were difficult to follow at times as you're weaving back-and-forth between rooms, and it didn't have quite the same reverent feel as the one in DC.

[from the night of burning books in germany. this reminded me of the book thief]
I think if you are interested in history, and particularly in the Holocaust, the Museum is worth a visit if you are in the Richmond area. Just make sure you give yourself lots of time.

the details:
  • 2000 east cary street, richmond, va 23223
  • open monday to friday 10am-5pm; saturday and sunday 11am-5pm
  • admission is FREE. that's pretty cool
  • pictures are allowed within the museum, but NO flash photography
  • give yourself a few hours if you really want to go through each bit of the museum
And keep an eye out: the mannequins are kind of creepy. Don't say I didn't warn you.

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