This post comes from first year undergraduate student Rhiannon Healey following a trip to the Imperial War Museum in London on Thursday 19th January.
A poignant display, the Holocaust exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London manages to shock even those who have a deep understanding of what happened in Germany and Europe during World War II. To respect the sensitive nature of the display, I decided not to take photographs. However, I was often moved to tears by detailed and graphic descriptions of the terrible events that occurred, and genuinely astounded to see the possibilities of human cruelty. The film clips of survivors describing their experiences under the totalitarian regime have been forever embedded into my memory, as the witnesses described attacks on Jews and facing persecution themselves. This really broke my heart. No matter how much you might know about the Holocaust, this exhibition opens your eyes to the horrors that took place.
What especially caught my eye was the use of film and radio to promote Nazi ideology and propaganda. Seeing Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels speaking to their audiences made me realise the harsh realities that ordinary Germans were facing. Another element of the exhibition that grabbed my attention was a cinema that promoted the idea of the Aryan racial superiority in Darmstadt, a place I visited in the summer of 2016.
The exhibition made me reflect on my time there, and how different perspectives affect the way we choose to remember certain historical events. The detailed records of how Nazis carried out their scientific theories of racial superiority was particularly terrifying. These records demonstrate that Nazi ideology permeated every single aspect of life, and with things like euthanasia and sterilisation of the ‘undesirable’ populations, it demonstrated that the people of Germany didn’t even own their own bodies. It is very difficult to imagine what these people felt as they lost their basic human rights, especially when seeing things like the dissection tables that were used to experiment on people.
However, the most effective part of the exhibition was the model that detailed the journeys and the deaths of those being persecuted. You are unable to take your eyes off the information cards that describe the horrific ways in which millions of people were transported, and effectively herded. Photos and videos show thousands of people being led like cattle to their deaths, and transmit their utter helplessness and vulnerability. Furthermore, it envisions the striking similarities of the migration issue that we face in the twenty-first century, with persecution a more prevalent issue than ever before. It is certainly graphic, and looking at the different death camps such as Auschwitz, and the clips of the Jewish victims it is difficult to come away without feeling empathy for the victims.
Overall, the Holocaust exhibition is well worth the visit. Not only does it deepen any knowledge one may have of the events and the Nazi regime, but it also helps to realise the lengths to which they went to achieve their objectives. While it is horrific, shocking and often depressing, the exhibition stays true to the course of history while conveying the tragic loss of life in a respectful manner.