Travelogue: Holocaust Museum LA
The underground museum across from the Grove is worth a visit
Living in Southern California offers ample opportunity to visit and tour interesting places. I’ve toured Disneyland, hiked in Griffith Park and danced at the top of LA’s tallest skyscraper. I want to write about vital, enriching experiences that are perhaps not as well known. One of them is LA’s Holocaust Museum.
It’s a structure cast in steel and concrete in an area of Los Angeles near the La Brea Tar Pits. The underground bunker-like museum is across from Rick Caruso’s merchant village, the Grove, near Farmer’s Market. This area is part of LA’s history in geographical oil discovery, drilling, refinery and wealth. Here, at America’s oldest holocaust museum, one can also learn about mass death caused by a civilized nation.
Holocaust Museum LA is the first holocaust survivor-founded museum in the United States. LA survivors met while taking English classes at Hollywood High School in 1961. They soon discovered that each student possessed an artifact, photograph or remembrances and wanted to educate others about the holocaust. These survivors worked to create a place where one could commemorate those who perished, honor survivors, showcase artifacts and provide lessons. The museum’s open from 10AM until 5PM Monday through Thursday and on Saturday and Sunday. It’s open Fridays from 10AM to 2PM. Call (323) 651-3704 for details (or write to: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Six exterior pillars mark the history of the holocaust’s 12 years, memorializing six million murdered Jews.
After entering an atrium and purchasing a $15 ticket—admission is free to students and California residents—visitors tour museum galleries framed by front page reprints of the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Herald Examiner from 1933 to 1945. This lets each visitor read reports which were available to Los Angeles readers during the holocaust. Complimentary audio guides are also offered upon admission.
Galleries, as you might suppose, are filled with material that can be emotionally heavy. Lighting, display and sequencing account for this effect. Spaces are wide, clear and easy to navigate. I matched audio with gallery exhibits with guidance from signage. Writing is concise and factual.
Holocaust Museum LA guides visitors with a timeline of intellectual regression; starting with pre-holocaust life in Germany, the first gallery features Jewish culture, religion and history. Artifacts include everyday items as well as religious objects. Pictures recreate gatherings, such as weddings.
Subsequent exhibits mark the rise of National Socialism. These include examples of propaganda and Nazi laws. Evidence proves book burnings, camps, anti-Jewish law and the onset of the Nazi T4 euthanasia program, ghettoization and the steady, systematic mass murder of Jews. Sections include the Nazi-allied Japanese attack on the U.S. and President Franklin Roosevelt’s wrongful decision to imprison Japanese. Other exhibits, in sequence, include deportation of Jews to concentration and death camps, the Wannsee conference, concentration camp life and the Nazi machinery of mass murder. Touchscreens offer data on camps across Europe.
My favorite part stems from the imagination of death camp survivor Thomas Blatt. This man meticulously conceived and recreated an original model of the Sobibor death camp — the only death camp in which prisoners waged an armed, successful mass revolt — on a smaller scale. Mr. Blatt’s glass-encased diorama fascinates. Suspended above the display, around which many visitors gathered during my tour, a television monitor features an interview with subtitles featuring Thomas Blatt about his experience there, building the model and what he thinks.
Sobibor, a rarely featured, let alone discussed — let alone properly exhibited — fact of the mass death known as the holocaust, is significant. As I learned years ago from Objectivist teacher, author and military historian John Lewis, who taught war and U.S. history at Duke University, it’s an important exception in Nazi Germany. Crucial knowledge, particularly how to overcome petty and other grievances and differences and unite to overcome tyranny, can be gained from the prisoner revolt at Sobibor. Thomas Blatt’s model alone merits a visit to Holocaust Museum LA. I asked front desk staff whether Mr. Blatt’s full interview is available to scholars. The answer, sadly, is No. A 70-screen display sporadically samples the complete collection of over 50,000 University of Southern California (USC) Shoah Foundation survivor oral testimonies.
The galleries feature tales of Anne Frank, Sophie Scholl and Oskar Schindler. There are exhibits in which to view, read and listen to stories about the war’s end, American liberation of camps, war crimes trials, including Nuremberg’s trials, and challenges faced by survivors. The Goldrich family funded a children’s memorial display, inspired by Jerusalem‘s western wall, where one can reflect upon the loss of approximately 1.5 million Jewish children who died during the extermination.
Of course, the museum ignores, denies or evades the central, underlying cause of Nazi Germany: altruism. For a detailed and masterful examination of the Nazis, read The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America by Leonard Peikoff, Ph.D.
Finally, if you visit and tour the Holocaust Museum LA, inquire about the USC Shoah Foundation-funded “Dimensions in testimony”. It’s a holography program sponsored by Steven Spielberg’s foundation which, during my visit, featured an interview with an altruism survivor named Renee Firestone. Firestone’s answers cover a range of topics which, while seated in a private booth, one can induce by oral communication. Technology affords an intimate artificial experience prompting real-time responses. Visitors must ask in advance about admittance to this holographic experience.