Representing History: Physical or Digital?

The Holocaust Museum, 100 Raoul Wallenberg PI SW, Washington, D.C, 20024, Created by President’s Commission on the Holocaust, Maintained by the United States Holocaust Memorial Council,, Reviewed February 6, 2022.

The permanent exhibit at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C presents the atrocities committed against Jewish, polish, and Roma people, among other minority communities located in Germany and greater Europe. Upon first entering and throughout the exhibit, I noticed a wide array of people also touring the exhibit as well. Many people from different backgrounds and communities. After entering the museum, you are automatically encased in hard and cold construction materials. Brick and and iron that line the entrance ways when you first walk into the “Hall of Remembrance”. The setting left me feeling uneasy and prepared me for the solemn mood I would carry throughout the exhibit. Before entering the exhibit, I was handed a piece of paper with the name and story of an individual who lived during the Holocaust. Throughout the exhibit you are meant to read the story of your person alongside the narratives, facts, and displays that provide both an individual and broader connection. The flow of the exhibit was primarily single and linear, with the exceptions of a few rooms that allowed the visitor to wonder in different areas of the room, but you were always directed back on a linear path through the rest of the exhibit. There are plaques, encased materials and objects, videos, and audio throughout the entirety of the exhibit that provide context and detailed information to what the visitors are viewing. One of the most moving parts of the exhibit for myself was walking through the room dedicated to the ghettos in which the Jewish people were relocated to. There is a train car that is the focus of this portion that the visitor walks through. I found it to be a very grounding and heavy experience, but it continued to keep me within the bounds of emotional experience the museum provided. There were several moments in which, without instruction, forced the visitor to reflect on the materials they were viewing. There is an area where the many faces of individuals and families line a tower. I could spend ours looking and scanning every face within that tower. The room that encase the thousands of discarded shoes from when people had entered the internment camps. In both of the instances, I was forced to reflect on the horrendous crimes committed against Jewish people and how a culmination of small acts that eventually grew into larger acts, led to millions of lives lost. The permanent exhibit at the Holocaust Museum forces people to confront one of the most monstrous acts of humankind, reflection and education are at the forefront here in this institution.

The Holocaust: History and Memory,, Created and maintained by United States Holocaust Memorial Museum,, Reviewed on February 9, 2022.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has both a virtual tour of the permanent exhibit as well as a list of virtual exhibits that supplement what the virtual tour does not cover. The virtual tour starts with the entrance hall, which provides more context to pertaining to the ambience of the museum. The arches, brick, and glass, all are meant to create “a cage-like barrier… an unsettling feeling of being watched”. Beginning the virtual tour with this information is the best way to connect the digital site to the physical site. Stating exactly how to construction materials are  intended to create a mood for the individual to hold onto throughout moving through the tour. I found this virtual tour located within the teaching section of the United States holocaust memorial museum website. As I scrolled through the virtual exhibit there were a few parts that allowed me to click and drag around the image to get a better sense of what I was viewing. Majority of the virtual exhibit consisted of scrolling through images alongside text that informed the viewer about the Holocaust material. There is a strength and weakness to this virtual exhibit. One being it is sponsored by Google cultural arts and brings accessibility to the public. However, the other being that it lacks some of the context that the physical site gives the visitor. All the materials in the virtual exhibit were a part of the physical exhibit but some were blurred out of respect to the artifacts. There were significant amounts of artifact and material that were present in the physical site that were not presented online. Of the virtual exhibit, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum provides an array of resources and other online exhibit’s that are partially discussed within the permanent Holocaust exhibit. Arguably, the virtual exhibit lacks the deeply emotional experience the physical site provides. However, it does allow individuals access to a museum scape in which they might not have the accessibility to visit. In order to create uniformity, I would merge the virtual tour with some of the virtual exhibits where majority of the scholarship is present that was in the physical site. The Holocaust Museum website was user friendly and easy to navigate, which made exploring the other exhibit information much easier. Overall, the digital site provides accessibility with enriched education, which is also present at the physical site just without the in person experience.

The physical site and digital site have both cons and pros to both. Accessibility is such a big part in any public history case. The Holocaust Museum does a great job at making both the physical site and digital site as accessible as possible. The museum created an experience, physical and digital, for me that will remain with me for the foreseeable future.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *