United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Backstory and Context
The origins of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum date back to efforts by scholars and museum professionals to create a national memorial in the 1970s. On November 1, 1978, President Jimmy Carter created the President’s Commission on the Holocaust. Commission members were tasked to create a report on the feasibility and cost of a Holocaust memorial that would provide a place of memory and education. The Commission was chaired by Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel. After almost a year of deliberation, the Commision created a plan for a memorial which included a museum, educational foundation, and a “Committee on Conscience.” The plan was unanimously approved by Congress in 1980 and the United States Holocaust Memorial Council was created to oversee the project.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the Museum was held on October 16, 1985. Construction on the museum did not begin until July of 1989, however. During the building of the monument, two milk cans were filled with pledges from Holocaust survivors and were buried underneath the foundation and members of the US Holocaust Memorial Council mixed soil from European concentration camps into the foundation of the building.
The Council secured architects and museum professionals who designed the building in such a way to allow a substantial permanent exhibit as well as spaces for temporary galleries, classrooms, a library, and a memorial shrine. Organizers also created community programs, interactive exhibitions, and worked to gain support from other museums and survivors who donated artifacts. The memorial and museum was funded by donations from more than two hundred thousand Americans from all 50 states.
On April 22nd, 1993, President Bill Clinton, Elie Wiesel, and Harvey Meyerhoff lit the eternal flame marking the symbolic opening of the memorial. Located in Hall of Remembrance, the eternal flame symbolizes the remembrance of tragedy and contains memorial candles that are free for visitors to light. An inscription from Deuteronomy reads before the eternal flame:
“Only guard yourself and guard your soul carefully, lest you forget the things your eyes saw, and lest the things depart your heart all the days of your life. And you shall make them known to your children, and to your children’s children.” - Elie Wiesel, contributor to the Commission and survivor of concentration camps Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Wiesel was born September 30, 1928 in Sighetu Marmatiei, Romania. He passed away July 2, 2016 in Manhattan New York City, NY. He spent his life as an author, activist, professor, and Nobel Peace prize winner. It is also worth noting that the first visitor to the Museum was His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet.
Today, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum welcomes millions of visitors per year and continues its educational mission with exhibits and programs. The permanent exhibit takes users through three floors of exhibits starting with the origins of the war and the early history of history of discrimination in Hitler's Germany. Visitors can view documents,
photographs, film, and historical artifacts and there are also options for guided tours view audio. Visitors can also witness personal objects from people who lost their lives in concentration camps. The self-guided walk through the museum displays a
chronological narrative of events from the Holocaust. On average, it takes several hours to explore the entire memorial and museum. For those who wish to explore further, kiosks and computers are available and offer the chance to go into more depth about the history of the Holocaust.