Houston Holocaust Museum by Vanessa Ramos

5401 Caroline Street
Houston, Texas 77004-6804
713-942-8000

April 2004–Houston is a culturally diverse city. This diversity is derived from the different historic events that have taken place around the world, therefore the result in the migration to and the settlement of several cultures in Houston . A key piece of the cultural collage Houston has become is the Holocaust Museum , which commemorates an occurrence that took place far away from here. The simple fact that there is a museum that commemorates a non American and cultural event lets us know the magnitude of cultural diversity found in our city.

The museum was added in 1996 to the Museum District in Houston . The building is equipped with a permanent and main exhibit room called Bearing Witness: A Community Remembers, which presents the general information about the Holocaust, and two additional smaller exhibit rooms: Exhibit Room A and Exhibit Room B which are about the 1936 Olympics in Berlin . It also has a library, and a theater with a capacity of a hundred persons where the visitors can hear the testimonies from the survivors of the Holocaust. The Lack Family Memorial Room is for local Holocaust survivors to commemorate their loved ones, and the peaceful Eric Alexander Garden of Hope which commemorates the children victims of the Holocaust. The austere surroundings of the building cover an entire city block that clearly reflect the horror of the Nazi persecutions towards the Jews making it a unique piece of architecture included in the city.

The first time I visited the museum was because the peculiar form of its exterior immediately caught my eyes. It was around 1:30 pm when I arrived and noticed that it was still open, and I had a couple of hours to check it out. As I entered the building the first thing I saw was the donation box, which is pretty much the only source of income that the museum gets from its visitors. The tall grey walls that surround the entry way and separate the lobby from the main exhibit hall as well as the projector room make presence. As soon as I was heading in, I was invited to join the group that was getting started to tour the main exhibit hall; the timing could not be more perfect. A tall middle-aged man with a green shirt was the tour guide. Since there was a good amount of people I decided to get ahead and see the exhibit hall on my own. There were a little bit more than twenty people in the group, from children to elders. The children’s facial expressions reflected the typical careless and innocent look of a child that is far away from comprehending the true meaning behind the pictures displayed in the exhibition. They may not be old enough to understand the point intended but they are old enough to know that something happened, and as they grow older they will eventually find more sense in these black and white pictures hanging off the walls of a museum. There was also this particular couple among the visors that called my attention. It looked as if the guy was explaining to his girlfriend about the pictures and information they were looking at. I say, “It looked as if” because for what I heard, I realized he was speaking German. Therefore, I assumed that either he or she had lost a loved one because of the Holocaust and that they were commemorating that person. He was calmly speaking in a very low tone voice and she was attentively listening to him.

There were black and white pictures displayed everywhere. It felt like I was inside this huge book, flooded with pictures and their appropriate explicit foot notes. It was as if I were following a giant time line. The first pictures were of how the Nazi political party began the rise of Hitler’s influence on the German people and the first signs of hatred towards the Jews. There was a picture hanging high that was of burning books, which contained ideologies that were not acceptable in the eyes of the new “perfect” German. There was a line that was taken from an old book that was inserted in the bottom of the picture which foreshadowed what these events would lead to in the future, “He who burns books will end up burning people”. These were strong words that were written years before all these events started to happen, and in the aftermath we realized the strong importance of the idea behind it because of its symbolic meaning. The burning of the books was the first sign of the new movement that was growing deep within the German people to liquidate those who did not accommodate to the new ideologies that were introduced by the Nazi Propaganda.

The tall gray and black walls that structure the interior of the museum are replete with black and white pictures of Hitler, the SS soldiers, the life of Jews in concentration camps, primary sources such as objects typical of that time and even letters signed by Hitler himself. But what really captivated me as a visitor were the photos of the Jewish people. Their tired facial expressions full of pain, agony and frustration, and the look in their eyes with a dim shine of hope about to die, create a feeling of sadness that penetrates the environment of the main exhibit hall that wraps you up and touches your side of humanity and makes you wonder how all of this could happen.

Even after seeing all the pictures and reading all the information, it is still kind of hard to understand where this hate of the Nazis against Jews originated from. The reason why Germans felt superior and thought that the Jewish people were less as human beings is absurdly inexplicable. There is no way anybody could justify such nonsense acts. The atrocities the Nazis committed against Jews got to the point of treating them like animals and even worse just because they did not fit the Nazi’s definition of being a “perfect” human like they supposedly wanted to become that Jews could not accomplish. Or was it just an excuse to justify, according to them, their actions and pretend to be the almighty and omnipotent God?

With that question floating around in my mind, I finished the main exhibit hall tour and walked towards the Exhibit Room A. This exhibit room does not receive as many visitors as the main one, may be due to its limited small space. Even though that is not a reason for skipping this exhibit room from your tour, and it is a very small room, it does not mean it does not encloses key information about the Holocaust because it explains in more detail a time period generally covered in the main exhibit hall. It is very quiet and the only thing you can hear occasionally is the increasing sound of steps as someone gets closer and closer to the door, how it decreases the same way as he or she walks away through the hall way, and the echo of the tour guide’s voice explaining on the next exhibit room. The smell of fresh coffee that comes from the clerks’ cups in the lobby also penetrates the environment in this exhibit room. Exhibit room A is about the Nazi Olympics of 1936 in Berlin . With walls not as tall as the main exhibit ones, but with the same colors and the same type of display organization, I was presented with more crucial information as well. In 1933 when Hitler became German chancellor, he quickly and efficiently manipulated the weak democracy of Germany transforming it into a one-party dictatorship. By 1936 the Nazi regime had already begun its plan to get rid of Jewish people by boycotting Jewish businesses, getting them out of government employments and by introducing the Numbering racial and citizenship laws. However, during the time of the Olympics in Berlin, the German government did not have another alternative than pretending to be “nice” just for that time to the Jews so that the participating countries were not witnesses of what was going on, even thought those countries already knew that Germany was segregated.

It took me about fifteen minutes to explore this exhibit room. As I emerged the main hall way again, I walked towards Exhibit Room B which is in front of Exhibit Room A. The doors were open welcoming the visitors, and its size was not much different from room A. This is the part of the tour where I felt the most connection towards the museum. During the 1936 winter Olympics, Jewish people where not allowed to participate in any competition, just because of their religious background. They took away the opportunity just because of what the Jewish people believed. This situation of being rejected and denied opportunities because of being a minority is very similar to what minorities face today. Being a born in Mexico and living in the United States makes me a minority. I know that some people think I should not be here. I know that some people look down on me, and I know for a fact that there are not the same opportunities for whites, blacks and Hispanics. The Jews were the people who were not wanted and the people that where looked down on. Although the situation is very different I can understand to a more degree the feelings and confusion that they were going through. The same happens to different races around the world. Since the attacks of the Twin Towers , Muslims and people of Arabic background around the world are suspects of being terrorists. Therefore, it was here in exhibit room B that I felt some sort of personal connection. We all experience a type of discrimination for being a different race, gender, and age to a minimal degree. Of course, this does not compare to the Holocaust, but it all comes from the things that may seem insignificant. Burning books might not seem a big deal at that time, but the Nazis had to start disturbing Jewish people somehow.

All the exits of the exhibition rooms lead to the mail hall way, which does not get behind in displaying something important about the Holocaust as well. What differentiates it from the others exhibit rooms is that this hall way displays art paintings. These paintings reflect life at that time. Once agai n, the misery, frustration, and agony the Jews went through are perceived by looking at these paintings. The large same size paintings hanging on the walls along the hall way, lead to two important places of great symbolic value in the museum. At the very end of the hall way, there is a basket on a stand full of white stones for each visitor to take one in front of a glass door that leads to the Eric Alexander Garden of Hope. Here a large grayish granite tomb stone sits on the middle of the garden that serves as a memorial for all the children that were victims of the Holocaust. In front of it there are three small pedestals about three feet tall with white stones on them. The visitor is invited to take a stone from the basket and place it on one of these pedestals in order to remember and send a prayer for these children.

On the other hand, there is also a memorial room which is next to the Garden of Hope inside the museum called the Lack Family Memorial Room. This room exhibits the wall of remembrance, the wall of tears, and the wall of hope. The room is used for contemplation, reflex ion, and meditation. The wall of remembrance is a wall made out of many pieces of white tiles with the names of people that perished in the Holocaust. All these names are from the loved ones Houston holocaust survivors lost to be commemorated.

Learning about the Holocaust in a high school history class, from movies, documentary films, and reading novels such as the one about Anne Frank, gives a very explicit idea of all the events that took place back then. But being at a place like this museum where there is concrete evidence such as the scratched fragments of glasses that belonged to the prisoners on the concentration camps, the uniforms, suitcases, and even the plates where they used to have their meals truly engrave an exceptionally vivid image of what they had to go through in our minds.

The moral value that the visitors learn from going to this museum is the characteristic that makes it stand out from the Museum District. Even though it is a place that commemorates an occurrence that took place in other continent and may seem as it has nothing to do with the American culture and Houston specifically, makes us understand why our city is very diverse and because of the same thing we must learn the tragic consequences that can result from not living in peace with everybody else. What definitely gets stuck in your mind after being in the museum is that everyone in the world must learn to live together in harmony to achieve piece and make the world a better place to live. This museum is the perfect place for future generations to learn that hatred does not conduce to anything good.

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