by Dan Robertson
Re-thinking the way students tour the US Holocaust Memorial Museum
New exhibits and pre-tour preparation may challenge and move students even more
The United State Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) is truly like no other museum in the world. Unlike the world-renown Smithsonian collection, it is not an endless display of fun and fascinating artifacts that students can quickly explore. It is an entirely different experience but one with the potential to change a student’s life.
As a Tour Leader you have to make a lot of difficult decisions regarding time allotments, especially when it comes to museum time. For example, at the Smithsonian, most will choose 2-3 museums and allot approximately 1.5-2 hours in each, permitting the students to choose particular exhibits of their interest. The Holocaust Museum is not a museum you want students to rush through.
Avoiding the biggest tour mistakes
The two biggest mistakes student tour groups make with respect to the USHHM are:
Not allotting enough time for the Permanent Exhibit- requiring students not only to rush through it, but also preventing them from experiencing the other powerful exhibits; and
Not going to the USHHM if they were unable to secure Permanent Exhibit tickets (these tickets are often difficult to secure in peak tour season and may be challenging to fit in a packed itinerary).
There is no question the Permanent Exhibit is one of the most powerful and moving exhibits in any museum in the world. A person could easily spend a week or more in the exhibit alone. The true impact of the Permanent Exhibit, however, can be lost if a student has to rush through it because of time constraints or perhaps they are not yet mature enough to grapple with the issues. The point to consider is that some of the groups that report the most life-changing moments at the museum, didn’t even go to the Permanent Exhibit, but instead allocated their time to the museum’s other hands-on exhibitions.
The Museum’s other exhibits are specifically aligned to students of all ages and maturity levels and thus have the potential to impact students in a deeper and more meaningful way. Additionally, many take far less time and are easier to fit into a crowded itinerary. Below is a list of other exhibits to consider at the USHMM along with ideas about incorporating some pre- or post-trip supplemental lessons.
Remember the Children: Daniel’s Story
Long one of the favorites of students and adults alike, this exhibit tells about the life of a child during WWII Germany through the eyes of “Daniel.” This is a great exhibit for all groups, but may be an option for those with younger students because it gives an interactive glimpse at this time period from the perspective of someone closer to the age of your students, and with whom they can relate.
Approximately 45 min; No pass required | No appointment required
Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration & Complicity in the Holocaust
This exhibit expands on the conventional understanding of the players and perpetrators of the Holocaust, and further addresses how an atrocity such as this could have actually happened. Everyone knows about Hitler and the Nazi Party, but less known is the role that others took both by passively turning a blind eye, or by actively supporting the effort behind the scenes. Your students will also hear the stories of those who bravely stood against the effort with the looming fear of retaliation against them and their families. This exhibit allows you to challenge your students with questions about succumbing to pressure – both real and implied – and how they would react at that time and in the future. Time: __ | Pass: __
The Survivors Symposium: Meet a living Holocaust Survivor
Depending on the dates of your tour, a very special and unique option is available to sit in on a lecture by an actual survivor of the Holocaust. Within the next generation, it is likely that all of the remaining survivors will no longer be living. This is an incredibly distinct and rare opportunity for your students to hear the real-life experience of someone who lived through one of the darkest times in the history of the world. It is now possible to reserve tickets for these events and guarantee space at an unmatched learning experience.Approximately 90 min | Passes / Reservations highly recommended
From Memory to Action: Meeting the Challenge of Genocide and The Nuremburg Trials: Was it Justice?
These two exhibits are great for older students who are ready to consider higher-level questions about current events and ideas of justice. “From Memory to Action” addresses more modern occurrences of genocide and crimes against humanity – including the ongoing conflict in Darfur. Visitors of this exhibit are asked to make a pledge about recognizing genocide and what they will do to help prevent such horrible events from occurring in the future. “The Nuremburg Trials” asks the question about justice and whether there is such a thing as “justice” for the perpetrators of mass murder and terror. Studies of pivotal historical and current events in the lead up to viewing these exhibits, followed by a reflection paper are a great way to encourage your students to think beyond just want they see on display at the museum. Time for each ___ | Pass for each: __
Preparing your students before visiting the USHMM
In speaking with some of the top Master Guides in DC and even Board of Directors of the USHMM, the biggest piece of advice is usually “students need to be more prepared for the Museum.” This is probably more true of this particular museum than any other because 1) the complexity of the exhibits being seen in a limited amount of time, 2) the emotional impact of the material and 3) the real potential the experience has to impact a student if the experience is properly planned.
By “preparation”, these guides are not simply saying ‘did the students study WWII and the Holocaust at school?’ They are going to an entirely other level of suggesting the students should be prepared for the exhibitions themselves so they can anticipate the activities and be prepared to fully reflect on the images, sights, sounds and smells of what they are about to witness. To assist you in this process, the educators at the Museum have compiled very compelling resources to aid you in this process.
Consider assigning some of the materials to groups of students before the tour to give them ownership of the experience. Perhaps use the resources at a pre-tour meeting or at the hotel the evening before. The biggest point is to find the ideal exhibit for your group, prepare your students for the visit, and you will likely find that this trip to the USHHM was your best one yet. For more information or questions about what exhibit may be best for your particular group, please feel free to contact your Tour Coordinator they will be able to advise you.