Holocaust Memorial Center – A Look Into the History, Horror, and Aftermath

Entrance to the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills

The Holocaust was a horrific time period where six million Jews were systematically persecuted and executed by Nazi Germany between 1933-1945 and millions of other people. Most people have only read about the Holocaust in history books. They haven’t had the opportunity to go to Central Europe and see first hand where these atrocities occurred. I have been fortunate to walk through a Jewish ghetto and the Salaspils Concentration Camp in Latvia. These experiences were emotional, moving, and definitely eye-opening for me. As was the experience walking through and digesting everything in the Holocaust Memorial Center, I hope you will find it just as deeply moving.

Holocaust Memorial Center Information

Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills

The Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan, documents the horror of what happened during the Holocaust and the events that led up to it, along with preserving an extensive amount of Jewish culture and history. They also focus on honoring all the survivors who were persecuted during this timeframe. To explore this museum filled with 50,000 square feet of history, you will need to reserve a timed admission ticket here. The admission fee is $8/adult. The open hours are Sundays through Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2.30 p.m.

Design of the Holocaust Memorial Center

Railroad Tracks in Front of Holocaust Memorial Center

Just looking at the museum as you drive by gives you a high creep factor as it resembles a Nazi death camp, which they did on purpose. The building’s exterior design is supposed to make you uncomfortable with its brick walls and barb wire surrounding it. But, there is a lot more to the design than you think.

The red brick walls represent the walls surrounding the Jewish ghettos, and the cables resembling barbed wire is for the concentration camps. The tall brick elevator shaft going through the roof is a symbol of the crematorium chimney. The guard tower brick pillars by the entrance represent the entrance into Auschwitz-Birkenau. The blue and gray striped metal panels are the same color as the camp uniforms, and the six glass pyramids light up to represent the six million Jews exterminated. And when you walk up to the entrance, you pass by the intersecting railroad tracks representing trains that transported the victims to the death camps throughout Europe. The entire building from start to finish is designed to be a symbol of what happened to billions of people.

Railroad Box Car

Railroad Box Car in the Holocaust Memorial Center

The European rail system conveniently connected cities with a high Jewish population concentration directly to the six killing centers used by the Nazis. This actual WWII-era boxcar used by the Nazis transported Jews and the undesirables to “relocation areas.” The Jews actually paid tickets to go on this one-way trip, which the Nazis packed full of more than a hundred people in the boxcar with no food or water. Can you imagine looking into this boxcar and see 100 people back to front stuffed in here?

You can hear and read stories about the horrors of the deportation process to the ghettos and death camps around the boxcar. In one seven-week period from July 20th, 1942 to September 12th, 265,000 Jews were sent off in trains for “resettlement.” They were told they would be relocated to the East. In actuality, the train took them directly to the gas chambers at Treblinka. It was the largest slaughter of a single community during WWII.

Inside the Railroad Box Car in the Holocaust Memorial Center

Timeline

Timeline in the Holocaust Memorial Center

After being hit with the heavy stuff right when you walk into the museum, it is nice to take a step back to start from the beginning. All the major milestones in the world’s history are laid out alongside the Jewish people’s history. Where did this all start? You can see so visibly how much the Jewish people have been persecuted repeatedly over time in this room. Even way back to the 1300s, Jews were expelled from England and France, and in the late 18th century, Jews were relocated to special concentrated areas.

European Jewish Heritage

European Jewish Heritage in the Holocaust Memorial Center

The room next to the Timeline is quite large and filled with so many artifacts and the history of European Jews and their life before the Holocaust. There is a large section explaining what Judaism is, their big milestones in life, the importance of the synagogue, and all about Jewish Holidays. Another part shows a large screen displaying and listing all the Jewish Communities and size before World War II. The part that will get a rise out of you is the section that talks about the rise of Anti-Semitism in the world and the blatant propaganda promoting it.

Jewish Life Before World War II

Rendition of a Jewish Settlement

I loved walking through this part of the museum. Seeing how these Jewish communities thrived in the areas they were designated to live. They made it work with religion, education, music, theater, and commerce. Some of the biggest names in commerce were Jewish, like Meyer Guggenheim, Lionel de, Rothschild, Julius Rosenwald, Estée Lauder, and Levi Strauss.

The Inhabitants of David-Horodok

Kid Photos of the Jewish residents who lived in David-Horodok, Belarus

In the south of Belarus lies a little town called David-Horodok. Out of the total population of 10,000, 30-40% were Jews. On August 10, 1941, the men and teenage boys were murdered by the Nazis, and on September 10, 1942, the woman and children were killed. Today the town still exists, but there are no Jews, only a mass grave. All that is left are these portraits taken between 1900 to 1939 by David-Horodok immigrants to the United States and Israel. I stood staring at this wall for a long time, looking at the children’s faces and the families all destroyed by a belief that a certain race was superior over all others. Such BS! The longer I stood there, the angrier I became for all those lives cut short.

Rise of Nazism

Rise of Nazism exhibit at the Holocaust Memorial Center

I’ve been to quite a few museums with WWII memorabilia in them, but none have given me the chills as this one did. You turn the corner of a brightly lit room, and you immediately descend into darkness. And nothing could emphasize this more than the giant wall portrait of Adolf Hitler. This area is dark for a reason; you learn where the origins of Nazism began, Hitler’s road to power, and what he started doing once he got that power. I already knew much of this information from books, but what I was fascinated by was the stories of resistance in almost every country and the unparalleled courage they showed fighting back.

Ghettos to Death Camps

Jewish Camp System in the Holocaust Memorial Center

This area was uncomfortable with a set up to look like the Jewish Ghettos and a section on each undesirable race or quality that the Nazis didn’t like. For example, the Poles were removed on the pretext for military expansion east for more living space for the German nation. in addition, this area had many stories on what life was like living in overcrowded and unsanitary ghettos. It was sad to see how compressed their lives were made to be in the ghettos.

Replica of people underground during the war
German exhibit at the Holocaust Memorial Center

Hitler’s plans to annihilate Jews were known in 1942, but the Allied powers never discussed the Final Solution. Even the newspapers were lax in reporting the Nazis’ atrocities on the Jewish people on the front pages. The world governments were more concerned with the refugee crisis than the deaths of millions of innocent people. When Allied leaders met in April 1943, they failed to discuss the plight of the Jews even with resistant groups in the Warsaw ghetto sending out a message to the West with the simple words: “Save us.”

The Notes from the Protokol meeting at the Holocaust Memorial Center

Camp System

The Camp System at the Holocaust Memorial Center

This area was extremely unsettling to walk through. There were several personal stories and signs for each country displaying how many Jews and other people were executed. You can even walk through a boxcar and see photos of people disembarking and waiting to enter the camps. Then you walk through an area showcasing what life was like in the camps if you made it past the killing chambers.

Photo of an Arrival at a Camp
Arrival exhibit at the Holocaust Memorial Center
Inside a camp exhibit at the Holocaust Memorial Center

There is a section on the liberation of the camps that is truly disturbing. I took photos, but now I don’t want to even look at them. They are raw, emotional, and just thinking about what I saw has tears in my eyes. If you ever had an idea that the Holocaust wasn’t real or never happened, you need to come to this museum and walk by this wall. I promise that you won’t get through it by being unmoved.

Survivor Stories

The museum does a great job in brightening up after the liberation of the camps. This area was another area that I could have spent quite a lot more time in; however, I was running out of time since the museum was closing soon. This interactive exhibit gives you numerous personal stories behind some of the Holocaust Survivors and Families. You will be able to read about their suffering, loss, as well as resilience and triumph in overcoming this horrific event. Very moving and uplifting!

Post War

Aftermath exhibit at the Holocaust Memorial Center

The post-war exhibit of the Holocaust Memorial Center goes into the aftermath of the war by following the war crimes trials held at Dachau and Nuremberg and following individuals making a new life in Israel, United States, and other countries in the world. Surprisingly, only 22 Nazi officials were put on trial, but all of them were either sentenced to hang or life in prison. Too bad they couldn’t put more on trial.

International Military Tribunal of Nazi Leaders

Excerpts from Anne Frank’s Diary

Anne Frank's Diary Excepts at the Holocaust Memorial Center

The last portion of the museum is a small exhibit showcasing excerpts from Anne Frank’s Diary. This exhibit seemed a bit unfinished as it was abridged with the one display. However, I found out later I missed the Anne Frank tree. In 2009, the Holocaust Memorial Center was honored to have been selected as one of only eleven sites in the United States to receive a sapling from the tree that grew outside Anne Frank’s hiding place. That was the only thing she saw through the window.

Summary

World Without Hate in the Holocaust Memorial Center

Visiting the Holocaust Memorial Center is emotionally exhausting; however, it is a must-visit museum, especially if you have never experienced a World War II site in person. You will get a better understanding of how the Jewish people have suffered so horrifically during this time frame. And maybe this will start some dialogue for being more kind to your neighbor, whoever they may be going forward.

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Further Reading

If you are coming to Michigan for a visit, check out these posts for extra travel inspiration:

2 Comments

  • amos baruchin 30January2021 at 4:21 PM Reply

    how can i get good ,close photos ,of david horodok,
    that i saw on the wall in your museum?
    may family ,baruchin,is from david horodk
    amos

    • Heather 30January2021 at 5:09 PM Reply

      Amos, Your best bet would be to contact the museum directly. They might be able to get you copies or put you in touch with the right person to help you out.

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