When the cornerstone for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. was laid in October 1988, there were those who wondered why the country needed a Holocaust museum. Over forty-six million visitors later, it has become a fundamental part of the nation’s museum infrastructure.

The concept of a national memorial to the Holocaust was conceived of by President Jimmy Carter, who established the President’s Commission on the Holocaust on November 1, 1978, and appointed Holocaust survivor and noted author Elie Wiesel as its chair. A little under a year later, the commission recommended the creation of a museum, a recommendation that was approved unanimously by Congress on October 7, 1980. Government-owned land was given, and private funds were raised. The museum opened on April 26, 1993.

The naturally emotional displays on the Holocaust are presented in a thoughtful and evocative manner that is enhanced by the museum’s unique architecture. Within the stark brick and limestone exterior are rooms of disquieting asymmetry. Visitors are encouraged to make their visit more than just a review of historical facts by connecting to a specific individual via a passport of an actual victim of the Holocaust they carry throughout the three floors of the exhibit. The Permanent Exhibit is divided by floors: Nazi Assault – 1933 to 1939, The Final Solution – 1940 to 1945, and Last Chapter. Additionally, the museum has a special interactive child-friendly exhibit called “Remember the Children: Daniel’s Story.”

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is also a major research hub and maintains one of the largest collections of Holocaust artifacts. Additionally, the museum provides Holocaust education in order to prevent future tragedies of genocide. To this end, the museum’s National Institute for Holocaust Education provides ethics education based on the lessons of the Holocaust to a wide range of public service professionals. It also maintains the Committee on Conscience, which watches for, and suggests, action on, contemporary hot spots for crimes against humanity.

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