Dallas Holocaust Museum

  
  - darkometer rating:  6 -
 
Another Holocaust Museum in the USA, this one is in Dallas, Texas. It's a comparatively small affair, but well laid-out and quite unusual in its general approach, namely focusing on a single day in April 1943 at three different locations (or four if you count the extra section about Dallas on that same day). In choosing this approach the museum's emphasis is rather on reactions to the Holocaust than on the history of the Holocaust as such. 

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More background info: see under Holocaust in general, and cf. especially US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., as well as the various entries for authentic sites in Germany, Poland and other countries where the Holocaust actually took place.
 
The Dallas Holocaust Museum uses as its alternate name the designation Center for Education and Tolerance (somewhat echoing the name of the Museum of Tolerance in LA). This is an indication of the primary function this institution aims to fulfil, and indeed the largest number of visitors are school groups/students. The museum claims it hosted 40,000 students in 2011 – plus an additional 15,000 walk-in visitors.
 
Founded in 1984, the present museum moved to its current location in 2005 … but there are plans to move it to a new purpose-built larger facility in the future.
 
 
What there is to see: not especially much, given the severe space limitations, but that space is used very well and the main exhibition well designed. Individual visitors are given an audio guide at the reception desk, and this greatly enhances the displays of documents and artefacts. On the other hand, you should probably stop the audio guide at various points in the exhibition to take in the displays alone, not all of which are covered sufficiently by the audio guide.
 
The main part of the exhibition is crammed into just one single room, but this is cleverly subdivided so as to create the impression of more space than there actually is. Before entering the exhibition as such, a kind-of prelude display opposite the reception desk provides a brief introduction, as well as a very stark depiction of the timescale of the Holocaust: in front of a collection of photos of goose-stepping Nazi soldiers, saluting Hitler, burning synagogues, the book-burning on Bebelplatz and other iconic images of those dark times stand concrete columns representing the number of Jews murdered per year. Those for the years between 1933 and 1940 are mere stumps, then the statistics shoot up in 1941 (with the beginning of Hitler's invasion of the USSR, and the rampages of the Einsatzgruppen in these occupied territories), peak in 1942 (with Operation Reinhard following the Wannsee Conference in January of that year) and still remain at relatively high levels in 1943 and 1944, before going down again for 1945. The scale difference between the few inches for the years pre-1941 and the ca. 10-foot column for 1942 does indeed convey the difference in principle between the repression of the early years and the full-on industrialized mass murder of the 'final solution'.
 
Opposite this display a map of Europe outlines the routes of deportations and the locations of the larger concentration camps as well as the six death camps in Poland (Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek, Chelmno and the three Operation Reinhard camps Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec).
 
Then you pass through a narrow passage between concrete slabs – the first of which is marked "One Day in the Holocaust" and another specifies: April 19, 1943 – i.e. around or shortly after the time when the "final solution" had reached its "peak".
 
Dominating the dark main exhibition room is a rail carriage, an original Belgian cattle boxcar, of the type that was used in the deportations to the camps. The undercarriage is, however, only a reconstruction. Set into the door of the carriage is a screen running a loop of Holocaust-related images.
 
The first of the three main thematic sections is to the right: it focuses on the Dossin Barracks deportation centre in Mechelen, Belgium, and in particular on deportation train No. 20 which was attacked and stopped by resistance fighters on 19 April 1943, allowing some 230 deportees to attempt to flee, of whom about half succeeded – the rest were either shot or recaptured and put on the next transport.
 
The second thematic section is about ghettos in Poland, and in particular about the Warsaw ghetto uprising on 19 April 1943. See under Warsaw and Ghetto Trail for more historical information about this.
 
The third thematic block is about the Bermuda Conference – convened by the governments of the USA and Great Britain after there had been increasing outcries and demands that the systematic extermination of European Jews be stopped. In actual fact, however, the conference just reconfirmed the USA's intention to hold on to its strict immigration laws and Britain's refusal to make Palestine a safe haven for Jewish refugees. The only "plan" raised at the conference was to make sure the war against Hitler's Germany would be won … as if that even needed mentioning. With regard to the Holocaust, nothing whatsoever was changed by the Bermuda Conference – if anything it only served to hush up the issue at home. It's a particular black mark on the US and British historical record, but one that is rarely mentioned. The Dallas Holocaust Museum, however, squarely puts the finger in the wound.
 
Round the corner from this third section follows a fourth thematic block, which is more an afterthought for comparison: namely an account of what 19 April 1943 was like here in Dallas. For this purpose a number of newspaper cuttings from that day are on display. In these you can see how little space or emphasis the emerging news of a massive extermination of Jews in Europe was given in the papers. Much more was made of the war effort on the battlefields. On the other hand, some unrelated coverage shows how racially segregated the USA still was at that time – and continued to be for years after WWII. For instance, one photo shows a bus stop with a separate section marked "colored waiting room".
 
The exhibition relies mostly on the spoken narrative of the audio guide as well as documents and photos. But it also has a number of original artefacts on display. These include some of the starkest there can be with regard to the Holocaust: one large glass display cabinet contains two of those prototypical striped camp inmate uniforms, both donated by survivors who ended up in Dallas. In addition there are items on loan from European sites, in particular Majdanek, such as a canister of Zyklon B gas, a cluster of victims' shoes, and small perspex boxes with samples of victims' hair, gold teeth and pieces of human bones (from Treblinka). Familiar photos of US delegations standing by the heaps of corpses at the liberated camp of Buchenwald further drive in the horrors of Nazi era.
 
Overall, however, the exhibition at the Dallas Holocaust Museum is very well balanced, educational and respectful. It is also supported by a number of Holocaust survivors, some of whom are regularly on hand to give talks or answer visitors' questions.
 
As the largest proportion of visitors are school groups it can at times get quite crowded in what little space the museum has. Talks given to the groups in front of the deportation boxcar further distract individual visitors. At times one just has to go to a different section of the museum to get out of the way of the amassed teenagers. Fortunately, given the design of the exhibition and the way the audio guides are operated, this is quite feasible. Generally, one need not follow any given order, but can dip in and out of the various chapters within all of the thematic blocks at will – although the overview may suffer a bit from this.
 
It also needs to be said that the museum is not particularly detailed when it comes to historical background information other than with regard to its three chosen main themes. That is to say that you should already have a solid enough background knowledge about the Holocaust when coming here. It's certainly not ideal for "beginners" without such prior knowledge. I didn't follow exactly what the school kids were told in their introductory talk (before they were released to explore the exhibition on their own), but I can only hope that it provided enough grounding for the kids to put the rest of the exhibition properly into context.
 
Adjacent to the main exhibition is a separate memorial hall with a tomb-like black marble slab in the centre, candles and names on walls – all exuding an extremely sombre atmosphere. This contrasts with the almost chirpy friendliness of the staff at the reception desk, who were indeed extremely welcoming.
 
The centre also has a room for temporary exhibitions. At the time of my visit (in early April 2012) this was an exhibition entitled "Every Child Has a Name", which as the title implies focused on children in the Holocaust, especially at Terezin. Next to the reception desk are a few shelves with books and other material about the Holocaust and related topics. Separate rooms of a dedicated learning centre, library and archives are adjacent to the museum. Throughout the year, special events are also held at the museum.
 
All in all, small and selective as this particular incarnation of a Holocaust museum may be, its unusual approach alone makes it very much worth the while to include a visit when staying in Dallas. Some prior knowledge of the Holocaust will, however, be indispensable.
 
 
Location: in the historic West End part of downtown Dallas, Texas, USA, at 211 North Record Street, just off Elm Street, near the corner with Pacific Avenue.
 
Google maps locator:[32.7803,-96.8075]
  
 
Access and costs: easy to get to, but an admission fee is charged.
 
Details: the downtown location of the museum makes it walkable from within downtown or the historic West End district. The most convenient public transport option is the light railway tram that passes the building and that has a stop just a block up Pacific Avenue (West End Station). For those driving, car parking is available either on street (metered) or for a fee at a nearby parking lot just opposite to the north of Pacific Avenue.
 
Opening times: weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. – at weekends from 11 a.m. only, closed on a number of Jewish and general holidays (incl. Yom Kippur, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Independence Day, New Year).
 
Admission: 8 USD (including audio guide – available in English and, as is typical for the south-west US: Spanish), students, seniors, military: 6 USD.
 
 
Time required: this seems to vary wildly from visitor to visitor. I've read reviews by some visitors complaining there was barely enough in the museum to spend 10 minutes in it. I can't understand such an assessment. Either the museum has changed massively since the time such visitors were there, or those visitors didn't really pay due attention. Even without the audio guide, the material presented warrants at least 30-45 minutes, with the audio guide you can easily spend double that time here, if not longer.
 
 
Combinations with other dark destinations: the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, the site of the assassination of President John F Kennedy in 1963, is just round the corner and thus makes the ideal combination. Nothing else in terms of dark tourism is near – see under Dallas.
 
 
Combinations with non-dark destinations: see Dallas
    
    
 
  • DHM 01 - entranceDHM 01 - entrance
  • DHM 02 - corner of Pacific AveDHM 02 - corner of Pacific Ave
  • DHM 03 - lobbyDHM 03 - lobby
  • DHM 04 - intro exhibitDHM 04 - intro exhibit
  • DHM 05 - the scale of horrorDHM 05 - the scale of horror
  • DHM 06 - Belgian boxcarDHM 06 - Belgian boxcar
  • DHM 07 - layered images of horrorDHM 07 - layered images of horror
  • DHM 08 - the three themesDHM 08 - the three themes
  • DHM 09 - main exhibition roomDHM 09 - main exhibition room
  • DHM 10 - artefacts of horrorDHM 10 - artefacts of horror
  • DHM 11 - Zyklon BDHM 11 - Zyklon B
  • DHM 12 - shoes from MajdanekDHM 12 - shoes from Majdanek
  • DHM 13 - bones, teeth, hairDHM 13 - bones, teeth, hair
  • DHM 14 - documents of horrorDHM 14 - documents of horror
  • DHM 15 - starsDHM 15 - stars
  • DHM 16 - Dallas afterthoughtDHM 16 - Dallas afterthought
  • DHM 17 - remembrance hallDHM 17 - remembrance hall

  

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