Week 7 Blog Post

In this entry, I’ll be discussing my visit to the Virginia Holocaust Museum in downtown Richmond. The main purpose of this post is to go over some of the artifacts and anecdotes displayed at the site and also go over some of the more subtle features of the building that capture the dreary and solemn nature of the Holocaust.

Perhaps the most remarkable pieces of history there were the clever escapes of the imprisoned Jews and how people from various cultures assisted them in doing so. One such man from Japan, Chiune Sugihara, helped Polish Jews escape into Eastern Asia by issuing them transit vistas before they were captured and sent off to concentration camps. This was especially dangerous for not only the escapees, but Sugihara as well. Knowing that Japan and Germany were allied at the time, he likely would have been executed if caught assisting the fleeing Jews. Another man from Denmark, Arie van Mansum, helped runaway Jews find hiding in vacant or damaged homes or businesses and provided them with ration cards while he worked with the Dutch underground. Reading these accounts provide us with the idea that the world saw the dehumanization of an entire culture and people of many different background sought to help them escape such cruel torture. I appreciated the fact that the museum included such stories as it changed my initial thoughts about the outside world (at the time of the Holocaust) and Nazi Germany. I had always believed for the longest time that most people chose to ignore the brutality going on in the concertation and death camps, and dismiss the problem of Jewish people being sent off to work camps and trying to get out of them. Reading the stories allowed me to understand that people all across Europe and Asia sought to take action to help Jews escape dehumanization, even if it sometimes put both parties’ lives at risk.

A subtle feature of the museum that I didn’t notice until after I went there was the structure and size of the museum and how it tied into the overall vibe of the Holocaust. Most of the museum is devoid of light and the small patches that are present are illuminating only the artifacts and display items; it wasn’t really lighting up the entirety of the building. This was clearly meant to capture the obvious solemn feelings of the Holocaust; however not many seem to notice the gradually shrinking size of the door ways and rooms at first glance. As I was progressing through the exhibits, I noticed that the doorways were becoming smaller and smaller and I was ducking a lot more than usual to avoid them. Even the walk ways became increasingly narrow as I neared the end of my trip. I brought it up to a family member, and he said that it was designed that way to capture the feelings of the transportation train cars used to haul prisoners to the camps from the ghettos. These prisoners were usually packed shoulder and were given no personal space whatsoever.

Going this historical site not only captured the gravity of the dehumanizing nature of the Holocaust, but also paid tribute to the numerous lives lost and lives that fled to Virginia and other states in the US. Reading the accounts of outside countries assisting runaway Jews and analyzing the intricate building designs help to enhance the disturbing, yet fascinating and important nature of a terrible event in human history.

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