Explore highlights from the Permanent Exhibition.
The Permanent Exhibition The Holocaust presents a comprehensive narrative history through more than 900 artifacts on three floors. Historical film footage and eyewitness testimonies are shown on 70 video monitors and in four theaters. Most visitors spend between one and three hours in the exhibition.
OPENING FLOOR: NAZI ASSAULT—1933 TO 1939
The exhibition begins with images of concentration camps taken by U.S. Army soldiers in 1945. These scenes shocked even battle-hardened troops and informed the world of the horrors of Nazism and the enormity of the Holocaust. The initial floor of the exhibition explores how systematic mass murder could have happened. It chronicles events in Germany from the rise to power of the Nazi Party in 1933 to the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. Two films are presented on this floor: The Nazi Rise to Power (13 minutes) and Antisemitism (14 minutes).
The exhibition explores how the powerful tools of a totalitarian state—propaganda, terror, violence, and state-sponsored racism—allowed persecution to escalate. In the police state created following Adolf Hitler’s appointment as chancellor of Germany, Nazi policies transformed the country’s Jews from citizens to outcasts and mobilized the entire nation against groups deemed to be “enemies of the state.” It resulted in a refugee crisis that left hundreds of thousands of Jews and others without safe haven.
Beginning on this floor and continuing throughout the exhibition, visitors learn how Americans responded to news of Nazi persecution, the refugee problem, and the events leading up to and including the Holocaust.
MIDDLE FLOOR: THE “FINAL SOLUTION”—1940 TO 1945
The next floor of the exhibition examines the wartime evolution of Nazi policy towards the Jews, from persecution to mass murder. As Germany expanded its territory across Europe, Nazi officials segregated Europe’s Jews from the rest of the population through laws, special markings, and relocation to ghettos. In 1941, with the invasion of the Soviet Union, Germany embarked on the path of genocide, the physical annihilation of an entire people—which the Nazis euphemistically termed the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question.” When World War II ended in 1945, the Nazis and their collaborators had killed some six million Jews in Europe, representing two-thirds of the Jewish population in prewar Europe.
A major focus of this floor is the world of the concentration camp, which rapidly expanded in the 1940s. The Nazis established thousands of camps, holding hundreds of thousands of inmates—Jews, Soviet prisoners of war, Poles, political prisoners, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roma (Gypsies), homosexuals, and others—who were subject to dehumanizing treatment, forced labor, and death. Jewish experience in the ghettos and camps, as well as in hiding, is covered on this floor of the exhibition. Highlights include efforts to preserve the evidence of Jewish life under Nazi rule, armed resistance in the Warsaw ghetto uprising, and the legacy of Anne Frank. An audio theater on this floor presents the testimony of Holocaust survivors in Voices of Auschwitz.
FINAL FLOOR: THE LAST CHAPTER
The concluding floor of the Permanent Exhibition addresses the liberation of the Nazi camps and the Allied victory over Nazi Germany in 1945, rescue and resistance efforts, and the aftermath of the Holocaust. The postwar quest to render justice to those who carried out the murder of millions of innocent civilians is covered, as are the efforts of Holocaust survivors to build new lives in Europe, Israel, and the United States. The exhibition concludes with a second series of films on American responses to the Holocaust during the war years, and the film Testimony, in which survivors, rescuers, and liberators share their experiences.
A recurring theme is the issue of individual responsibility toward fellow human beings in danger. Thousands of courageous non-Jews risked death or imprisonment to save their Jewish neighbors, and others—Jews and non-Jews—joined in the underground war against the Nazis. Still others joined the killers, becoming perpetrators or enablers of genocide. The vast majority of Europeans, however, were bystanders who did little to deter the Nazis or to aid Jews or other victims of Nazi persecution. Highlights of this floor include the activities of French villagers in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon to hide Jews, the Danish rescue of some 7,000 Jews, and the actions of the American War Refugee Board and Raoul Wallenberg to save Jews in occupied Europe.
First Floor: enter through the elevators in the Hall of Witness. Passes are required March through August.
Plan a Group Visit to the Permanent Exhibition.