100 Raoul Wallenberg Place SW
HOURS: Daily 10 a.m.-5:20 p.m.;
closed Yom Kippur and Christmas Day
Undoubtedly DC’s most heart-wrenching museum, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is a chilling reminder of mankind’s ability to commit atrocities and heinous acts, yet is also a tribute to humankind’s courageousness, relaying stories of heroism, bravery, and faith.
With a collection of nearly 13,000 artifacts, the museum tells of the ordeal that Jewish people in Europe faced from the early 1930s to the liberation of the concentration camps in 1945. In the permanent exhibit, The Holocaust, history is chronicled from the Nazis’ rise to power and the corralling of Jewish people into ghettos to deportation and the Final Solution, the Nazi plan to eradicate all Jewish people.
One section recounts the stories of gentiles who reached out to hide, protect, and save Jewish people, including the now-famous Oskar Schindler; Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, who approved visas for 6,000 Jewish people to leave Lithuania; and Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat for whom the museum’s street is named, whose work acquiring fake passports and papers is estimated to have saved 100,000 people.
Other exhibits focus on the liberation of the concentration camps, the Nuremberg trials, and the stories of the survivors. There is also a Hall of Remembrance where visitors can light a candle in honor of the victims.
Visitors often ask why Washington DC was selected to host this museum. The facility and its education center were the result of a commission ordered by President Jimmy Carter and headed by author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, assigned to study the feasibility of creating a memorial to honor the 6 million Jewish and 5 million non-Jewish victims of the genocide. The museum was designed by architect James Freed, who fled his native Germany as a child in 1939 and was a partner in the well-known architectural firm Pei Cobb Freed.
Timed passes are required to visit the museum during its busiest season, March through early August. If you plan to visit during this time, go online at least two months before your visit to secure a spot. A few same-day tickets are available at the front desk, but these go quickly in the morning at opening time.
This museum is recommended for people age 12 and older; it’s wise to gauge the emotional maturity of your child before planning a visit. The museum keeps its most graphic images behind privacy walls, allowing visitors to decide whether they want to view them, but the entire space is filled with disturbing images and heartbreaking stories.