By Bruce H.G. Calder
Nestled in Houston’s Museum district where you might find some of Rembrandt’s drawings, discover the courage of African-American “Buffalo Soldiers” and even learn how hurricanes get their power sits an architectural gem devoted to the preservation of the memory of one of the most brutal chapters in the history of mankind.
Educating people about the Holocaust and remembering the 6 million Jews and other innocents murdered by the Nazi regime since its opening in 1996, Houston Holocaust Museum strives to remember the past, and take lessons learned from the Holocaust and other genocides to “teach the dangers of hatred, prejudice, and apathy” along with how and why so many turned a blind eye to the horrors in their midst.
HMH teaches, inspires, and warns at every turn.
At the entrance you will find six steel columns that evoke the memory of six million murdered Jews, trestles used to symbolize the railroad tracks on which thousands upon thousands were brought to their deaths, in addition to the permanent exhibitions which show in sometimes gruesome detail Nazi Germany’s “Final Solution” during which as many as 17 million souls were systematically murdered by the Adolf Hitler’s state.
Given the subject matter, it should go without saying that much of what is on display can be very disturbing - the concentration camps, the forced deportations, the executions, neighbors turning on neighbors - but although it’s intended for people as young as 10 years of age, the displays are designed in such a way as to hide the most graphic items, allowing guardians to first decide what is appropriate for their children.
You’ll find archival film and photographs of Germany leading up to World War II, Nazi propaganda, and how millions were rounded up and murdered for the crime of being Jewish, or handicapped, or in some way “undesirable.” A railway car of the type used to carry humans to their death alongside a boat used to hide a few of those destined for the crematoriums of the Third Reich, accounts of the slaughter of innocents by those “just following orders”, examples of courage by those who risked their own lives to save the lives of strangers. Both the very worst of man and the very best of man are on display.
Those who perished during the Holocaust are remembered by the Butterfly Project for which the museum is collecting 1.5 million butterflies from around the world to symbolize the 1.5 million children who died during the Holocaust, by the memorial wall where survivors can commemorate their lost loved ones, and by the Wall of Tears, a mosaic of 600 glazed tiles suspended in front of a glass wall to “create the impression of a wall made from and washed by tears.”
Although of course the focus is on the millions who died at Nazi hands before and during World War II, Jews in particular, an important theme of the museum is to take the lessons learned, and help teach people how such tragedies may be prevented by learning to respect others and fighting prejudice. The world has been witness to staggering displays of inhumanity over the centuries, and through an extensive program of educational outreach to area schools and the community, Holocaust Museum Houston strives simply to “stop hate”, “stop apathy”, “stop ignorance”, and “stop genocide.”
Using artifacts of the era and a hands-on approach to the subject matter, such as the arts-and-crafts activity of making butterflies for the Butterfly Project the museum sends a powerful message. Lucy Davis from Wells, Texas said, "What really hit me the hardest was the German rail car that they have displayed in the back courtyard. The weather gauge inside the rail car registered 120 degrees. There were only three of us in the car at the time. I can only imagine how horrible it would have been with 300 people in the car."
Along with the permanent exhibitions, every month seems to bring something different such as this August’s “One Million Bones” where participants will be invited to make artwork bones out of clay to “recognize the millions of victims and survivors who have been killed or displaced by genocide or humanitarian crisis.”
With a focus on survivors who have made Houston their home, a library containing over 6,000 volumes, a growing collection of resources and programs to help teachers convey the unblinking history of a dark time, HMH has become an important part of Houston’s cultural landscape.
Everybody alive today who was born by the end of World War II is a senior citizen. It won’t be too long before there will be nobody left to give a first-hand account of these crimes against humanity. Holocaust Museum Houston will continue to speak for those who were killed all those years ago and for those survivors who must inevitably fall silent.
For More Information: http://www.hmh.org/