Architecture Of Atrocity

April 25, 1993|By Samuel Eskenazi, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, architects

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington will open to the public tomorrow. It was established by an act of Congress in 1980 as a memorial to 6 million Jews and millions of others who perished during the Holocaust.

The museum contains 265,000 square feet of floor space and sits on a 1.9-acre site made available by the federal government. It was funded by $168 million in private donations.

Upon entering the museum, visitors take an elevator to the fourth floor and begin their descent into the spiraling horrors of the Holocaust.


Home of the Holocaust Research Institute, which includes photos, oral histories and videos plus a 20,000-volume library and the Benjamin and Vladka Meed National Registry of Jewish Holocaust Survivors.

4th FLOOR: 1933 to 1939

This area details the Nazis' persecution of Jews and others they deemed racially inferior. Visitors will learn how groups of people -- including Jews, Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals and the disabled -- were systematically excluded from society in Nazi Germany and the lands into which the Nazis expanded. Visitors will see a portrayal of 1933's book burnings and learn of the impact of 1935's Nuremburg Laws isolating Jews. They will learn about Kristallnacht, Nov. 9-11, 1938, when hundreds of synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses were burned.

3rd FLOOR: 1939 to 1945

As World War II erupted, the Nazis deported millions of people to ghettos and concentration camps, then began a state-sponsored program of genocide. Visitors see the grim reality of the ghettos, the mass murder by mobile killing units, and the assembly-line factories of death. The exhibition takes visitors from the initial state-authorized killings of handicapped German nationals by lethal injection or gas to the "final solution" of the death camps.

2nd FLOOR: 1945 to NOW

The exhibition concludes with accounts of rescue, resistance and renewal. Displays chronicle rescuers' efforts and the survivors' determination to find new havens in the United States, Israel and other countries.


The central space is the Hall of Witness, designed to prepare visitors for the disquieting journey through the permanent exhibition. Also provides access to areas not included in the permanent exhibition, such as the 414-seat Meyerhoff Theater, the Gonda Education Center, the Wexner Learning Center and a seat movie theater.

Portrait of a victim

As visitors enter the museum, they are issued identity cards introducing them to an actual Holocaust victim or survivor of roughly the same age and sex as the holder. Bearing a picture and brief biographical information, each card is similar to the ones Jews were required to carry during Hitler's reign. At three checkpoints in the museum, visitors insert their cards into a computer to discover the fate of their Holocaust counterpart during the periods covered in the exhibits.

General Information


The museum is south of Independence Avenue, Southwest, between 14th Street and Raoul Wallenberg Place (formerly 15th Street) and adjacent to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Entrances are on both 14th Street and Raoul Wallenberg Place.

Hours 610 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day; closed Christmas Day.


Free, but to accommodate expected crowds, the museum will operate on a timed-ticket system until Labor Day. The last entry time will be 4 p.m. For reservations, call Ticketmaster at (800) 551-7328; there is a $3.50 service charge. A limited number of same-day tickets will be available at the museum's box office.


The permanent exhibition can handle up to 500 people and hour and 3,000 people a day.


The museum's permanent exhibition is not recommended for children under 11. A separate presentation for children 8 to 11 years old, "Remember the Children," is near one of the temporary exhibition areas. A separate children's wall in the museum's education center commemorates the approximately 1.5 million children who died in the Holocaust.


There is no parking at the museum and only limited parking in the area. Visitors are encouraged to take public transportation. By Metrorail, take the Blue or Orange line to Smithsonian Station, Independence Avenue exit. Go west on Independence Avenue and turn left at 14th Street.

Touring time

About three hours. Brochures for self-guided tours are available at the information desk.


Visitors are permitted to take photographs for personal use. Flash photography and video cameras are prohibited.

Other features

On the second floor, a multimedia learning center contains two dozen work stations with access to Holocaust data. The Museum Shop, near the 14th Street entrance, carries a variety of books, videos and other material related to the Holocaust. The Cafe, in the museum's adjacent administrative center, will be open to the public during museum hours.

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