As a person who helps design museum exhibits, I found all of your comments very interesting.
I have been to the Holocaust Museum, and I really enjoyed it. You enter the museum, and get your tickets for a tour group, unguided, but they only allow so many through at once. You’re moved to a waiting area in which children’s drawings on tiles depicting their feelings about the Holocaust cover the walls. I was there for hours and hours. This museum is rich in artifacts and meaning, well concieved, and placed with incredible visual impact.
You’re taken to an elevator, which goes up without needing to be told which floor. As we rode upward, the occupants were chatting, and laughing softly, but when the doors opened, silence hit all of us like a fist. In front of you is a huge photograph of corpses piled carelessly. It’s a gory, eerie sight which immediately changes you from a chatting tourist into a shocked, silent viewer of carnage. The point of the first sight is to show you what the Americans saw when they first opened the camps. You’re supposed to feel their reaction.
You pass through halls of artifacts depicting the almost casual anti-semitism of Germany, educational materials, films, etc. The building is intentionally laid out in a confusing, winding, spiraling manner, to confuse you as a person who was taken to the camps would be confused. It spirals upward, like smoke in a chimney.
You see an actual cattle car in which the Jews were transported. You see Zyklon B tablets in a glass jar, and a crematory oven door. You see photographs from the hideous medical experiments through viewers, in a way, like peering through a microscope. You see camp uniforms dissapearing up a chimney.
You are assigned an identity card which tells the story of one Jew, male or female according to your sex. At certain points, you check on what happened to this person, ending in a hall of archives in which scholars are still recording the experiences of the Holocaust. The day I was there, there was a woman who was searching for records as to what happened to her great-aunt.
In one room, a pile of shoes taken from the Jews gives you somewhat of an inkling of what numbers truly mean. There is a glass hallway in which the names of the towns wiped off the face of the earth by the Nazis are engraved in the glass. The sheer number is overwhelming.
In one hallway is a chimney, lined to the top with pictures of the victims . . . a visual reminder of how these smiling children, and gentle-looking grandmothers literally “went up in smoke.”
At the end of the tour is a hall of rememberance, in which you are invited to light a candle to the victims. I looked through the visitors log, and was struck by how many times the only entry from a guest was “Never again.” I think that these people were simply rendered inarticulate by the sheer impact of what we had seen. It’s a powerful experience, and I’m not the only person who left in tears.