Welcome to our museum! At the Holocaust Memorial Center, we strive to engage, educate, and empower our visitors to remember the Holocaust and apply the lessons learned to our world today. This resource was developed by our docents to enhance your exploration of our permanent exhibit. It provides information on several artifacts and installations, and some questions to spark your curiosity.
Consider taking a close look at some of the items you see on display. When looking at photographs and installations, ask:
- What do I see? What’s going on here?
- What do I see that makes me say that?
- How does it make me feel?
- What more can I find?
When looking at artifacts, ask:
- What is this object?
- What might it have been used for?
- What does it teach me about this history?
This eternal flame burns in memory of the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. The number 6,000,000 staggers the mind. We translate that total number into individual stories and remember each as the person they were. On the black marble wall, you will notice names of some of the ghettos, camps, and sites of atrocity where many local survivors lost their relatives. In addition, you will notice the approximate number of Jewish people from various countries that were murdered. If you look directly into the wall, you will notice your reflection.
- What do you think of when you see your reflection?
- How does a perpetually burning flame honor the names of those lost to the Holocaust?
- Is there a country that stands out to you? Why does it stand out?
Boxcar & The Henrietta and Alvin Weisberg Gallery
This boxcar was used during the Nazi period for two purposes: to transport German Army personnel and equipment, and to transport Jews and other prisoners to ghettos and camps. Inside boxcars like this one, as many as 100 individuals were locked inside without food, water, or proper sanitation. Many did not survive the journey, which could last several days to more than a week. At this installation, you can hear Henrietta Weisberg’s memory of her family’s horrific journey on a deportation. The scenery behind the boxcar is a replica of a train station in Hamburg, Germany. Between May 1940 and February 1945, approximately 5,848 Jews and 1,264 Roma and Sinti peoples were sent on 20 deportations from this station.
- How would you describe the boxcar? Are there any characteristics that stand out to you? Why?
The timeline visually depicts the 4,000-year history of the Jewish people. Spanning from right to left across this circular room, important dates in Jewish history are noted in the upper portion of the timeline. Below, are important events in world history, providing the former with greater context.
- What is the purpose of a timeline? How does a timeline provide information in a different way than other sources?
Inside the glass case is a Torah scroll. Written in Hebrew, it contains the five books of Moses. This particular Torah was written in 1790 and had been used for nearly 150 years before it was buried during the Holocaust. It was only in the late 1980s that the Torah was rescued by Jewish War Veteran and child of Holocaust survivors, Harry Rapaport.
- The pointer is pointing to Leviticus 19:16 that translates to “…do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” What does this mean to you?
David-Horodok Photo Wall
All of the people pictured on this wall were from a small town in Belarus called David-Horodok. As you can see in the photos, they were all ordinary people living lives not too different from ours. Couples got married, families sat for portraits, friends got together and had fun. These photos not only capture a glimpse of the rich lives lived by the Jewish people in this town, but remind us of what was lost. Of the 4,300 Jewish people in David-Horodok, only 100 survived. Their vibrant community was destroyed.
- What can we learn about life before the Holocaust from these photos?
- Are there any photos that are particularly striking to you? Why?
Antisemitism is the term used to describe hostile beliefs or behaviors towards Jews. Though the term was coined in the 19th century, the fear, suspicion, and hatred had existed for millennia. These panels help explain the history of antisemitism and provide some examples of events, caricatures, accusations, and stereotypes. When Hitler came to power in 1933, antisemitism was already entrenched in European culture. The Nazis built upon these ideas and incorporated them into their ideology.
- How do you see the persistence of antisemitism and other prejudices in society today?
- What can you do to challenge these prejudices?
The Holocaust Memorial Center’s architecture reflects the narrative of its core exhibits. Upon leaving the bright, open space of the European Jewish Heritage gallery, you will descend into the Rise of Nazism gallery. Following Germany’s defeat in World War I, the Nazi Party blamed the Jews for Germany’s defeat. The Great Depression devastated the German economy, and weakened people’s faith in the government. The Nazi Party promised that power and glory could return and offered hope during a time of uncertainty. Though antisemitism was not always the primary reason for Germans to support the Nazis, its centrality in Nazi ideology cannot be ignored.
This weekly tabloid was published by Julius Streicher, a prominent member of the Nazi party. It was intended for the working man who had little time to read. This tabloid was filled with virulent antisemitic articles and political cartoons. Its circulation was estimated to 500,000. Every issue had a banner across the bottom of the feature page that read: “Die Juden sind unser Ungluck!” which translates to: the Jews are our misfortune!
- What do you notice first when you look at this newspaper?
- What is the overall message that you think the editors wanted to share in this newspaper?
Used for propaganda purposes, the Nuremberg Rally was the annual rally of the Nazi Party from 1923 to 1938. In this carefully staged photograph from the 1928 rally, Adolf Hitler stands among the seemingly endless crowd of people, staring defiantly into the distance. Though taken almost five years before he was appointed Chancellor, Hitler was already a prominent political figure in Germany
- What do you notice about this photograph?
- Who might have taken this photograph, and why do you think this photograph was taken?
- What message do you think the photographer is trying to share?
Trust No Fox
Just after the Nazis came to power in 1933, Hitler established a Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda to spread Nazi ideology and messages through all sorts of media – newspapers, radio broadcasts, film, theater, posters, and books. Published in 1936, this children’s book spreads antisemitic messages to young readers. On this page, readers are assured that “It’s going to be fine in the schools at last, for all the Jews must leave.” Approximately 100,000 copies were printed, and the book was used in many schools.
- What is happening in this illustration? How would you characterize the people depicted in this illustration?
- What antisemitic stereotypes does it reinforce?
- What impact do you think this book – and other pieces of propaganda – had on people’s beliefs and opinions?
Beginning on May 10, 1933, more than 25,000 books that were considered to be “un-German” were burned in large bonfires in Berlin. In so doing, the Nazis asserted their power to censor and control German thought. Many of the books that were burned were written by Jewish authors, though some were burned because of their content or ideas. For example, Hellen Keller’s books were burned because she advocated for social justice and pacifism.
- Why burn books? What would it accomplish?
- What message might this have sent to the German people?
After the Nazi’s invaded Poland in September, 1939 they followed orders given by Reinhard Heydrich to force Jews into ghettos. These designated districts physically separated Jewish people from the rest of the city or town’s non-Jewish population. In the hundreds of ghettos that were established, the living conditions were not conducive to survival. Indeed, many were murdered by deliberate malnutrition and unsanitary conditions. Eventually, nearly every person was deported from the ghettos to killing centers or other camps.
Warsaw Ghetto Diorama
The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest ghetto; approximately 400,000 people were crowded into an area of 1.3 square miles. It was surrounded by a brick wall approximately 10 feet tall topped with barbed wire. People were forced to wear badges or armbands to signify that they were Jewish and were forced to perform hard labor for the German Reich.
- Describe the Warsaw Ghetto based on this diorama.
- Even when forcibly separated from their non-Jewish neighbors, why do you think that the Jewish people in ghettos were forced to wear special armbands?
It is a common misconception that the Jewish people did not resist the Nazis. To resist, however, one did not need to participate in armed rebellions. Many fought to maintain their humanity and dignity in the face of dehumanization. For example, clandestine schools were established for children in the ghettos, musical and theatrical performances persisted, and religious services – which were forbidden in many cases – were held.
- Why do you think that spiritual resistance is often overlooked as a form of resistance against the Nazis?
- Why do you think these seemingly small acts of resistance are important?
Armed Resistance The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
During the summer of 1942, 300,000 Jews were deported from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka, where they were murdered in the gas chambers. By April 1943 the ghetto population had been reduced to approximately 70,000. Many of the Ghetto inhabitants were well aware of what awaited them. From April 19 to May 16, 1943, Jewish resistance organizations carried out an armed rebellion against the Nazis. Though ultimately defeated, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the largest instance of armed resistance during the Holocaust. It inspired efforts in other ghettos and camps.
- There was little chance that the Warsaw Ghetto fighters would defeat the Nazis. Why do you think they fought back anyway? What message did it send?
The Final Solution to the Jewish Question, or Final Solution, was a euphemism used by Nazi leaders to refer to the systematic and deliberate murder of European Jewry. This plan did not come about overnight; rather, it came to be after years of increasing discrimination, segregation, and violence against Jewish people in the Reich. On January 20, 1942, high ranking Nazi and German government officials gathered to discuss and coordinate efforts to implement the “Final Solution.” By this time, specialized troops known as mobile killing units, or Einsatzgruppen, were already systematically murdering Jews in the Soviet Union and Jewish victims were being gassed at Chelmno.
- Who attended the conference? Why did not attend?
- Why do you think only certain people were invited to this conference?
Boxcars like this replica on display were used to transport victims to camps and killing centers. Upon arrival, people were rushed to jump down and men and women were separated from one another. Guards performed Selektions where they selected people for immediate death in the gas chambers, or to perform forced labor.
As the war approached its final days, the Allied troops liberated the camps. What they found was unimaginable. The Signal Corps, headed by General Eisenhower, documented the terrible conditions in these camps by taking photos and videos or preparing written reports. Their documentation was used as evidence of Nazi crimes. This section of the museum presents actual footage from the camps after they were liberated. Note: The images are very graphic and difficult to watch.
During the war, the Allies met several times to discuss what to do with Nazi leaders. They agreed to prosecute the leaders, and in November, 1945 several major war criminals were tried by an international war tribunal. In total, there were 199 Nazi criminals tried at Nuremberg; 161 on them were convicted, 37 were sentenced to death. The defendants admitted that the crimes being spoken about had happened, but argued that they were not responsible, for they were “just following orders.” The film footage on display in The Abyss was used as evidence in these trials.
Displaced Person (DP) Camps
In the spring of 1945, the war had officially ended; the Allies declared victory. The camps were liberated. Though those that survived were freed from the torture and danger of Nazi tule, they were far away from home, did not know where their families were, and had no possessions. Displaced persons camps (or DP camps) were established to provide sanctuary for those who survived. While conditions were not ideal, the camps provided a safe place to eat and sleep and begin to return to life. Many married and started families as they waited – some for up to 6 years – to immigrate to countries all over the world.
Portraits of Honor
Portraits of Honor features the personal stories of survivors who came to Michigan after the war. These stories provide a living history of the horrors of the Holocaust and the strength and resilience of the human spirit. You can access this gallery or online at home at www.portraitsofhonor.org.
Hall of the Righteous
Amid hostility and violence, there was a small minority of people that saw past the stereotypes and hatred and acted with courage and humanity to help those being targeted by Nazi tyranny. Referred to as Righteous Among the Nations, these upstanders risked their lives and the lives of their families to rescue Jews. Featured in this gallery are a few of those that have been recognized with this honor.
- There are many stories told here. Which story connects with you?
- Why do you think some people chose to be upstanders? Why do you think most people remained indifferent or complicit?
The Viola & Garry Kappy Anne Frank Exhibit and Tree
Though Anne Frank and the others hiding with her could not go outside, they could see branches of a tall chestnut tree in the courtyard outside of the secret annex. On February 23, 1944 Anne wrote: “From my favorite spot on the floor, I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver […] When I looked outside right into the depth of nature and G-d, then I was happy, really happy.” A windstorm felled the tree, but 11 saplings were saved for replanting to worthy institutions all over the world. We were the only Holocaust museum in the United States awarded this honor.