Touring the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum
Photo: Courtesy DHHRM
This restored boxcar was originally housed at the original Memorial Center for Holocaust Studies located in the JCC basement.

Museum hopes to inspire visitors to take action

By Eva Rosen

The new Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum opened in its permanent home Sept. 18, with the goal of educating a new generation of visitors, and inspiring them to take action. 

First established in 1984 by a group of Dallas Holocaust survivors, the museum is at 300 N. Houston St., more than five times the size of the original museum, which was in the Jewish Community Center’s basement. In addition to its permanent and rotating temporary exhibits, the museum features, in a Dimensions in Testimony(SM) Theater, a holographic recording of local Holocaust survivor Max Glauben. 

An interactive, holographic project developed by the USC Shoah Foundation, the exhibit will allow visitors to interact with a Holocaust survivor long after they are of blessed memory. The interactive technology allows visitors to speak with holographic images of survivors in real time. Glauben will be the featured survivor that visitors will interact with in the permanent theater.

As visitors enter the museum’s Holocaust/Shoah wing, they pass a wall printed with the definition of “upstander,” a term that sets the tone for the rest of the experience. An upstander is a person who “stands up for other people and their rights,” “combats injustice, inequality and unfairness,” or “sees something wrong and works to make it right.” 

Photo: Courtesy DHHRM
In the Human Rights Wing, the Genocide Room features 10 stories of genocide for each stage.

Mary Pat Higgins, president and CEO of the museum, hopes visitors will “gain an understanding of their responsibility to stand up for others.” She is especially eager for this message to reach younger audiences, so they will “leave the museum standing up to bullying, standing up to prejudice when they see it.”

The museum was crafted with a seventh-grader in mind, though visitors of all age groups and backgrounds have much to gain from the experience. Higgins reported that, in an internal study, the museum found that “50 of the middle school students and one-third of the high school students left the prior museum with a strong feeling of the ramifications of bystander behavior. Getting the students here earlier really made a difference.” The Museum Experience Fund, made possible by donors to the museum, will help younger audiences learn from the museum by waiving admission fees of Dallas Independent School District students on school group visits.

The museum’s three permanent wings are not separated by doors or curtains. This was intentional, as the museum wanted to avoid visitors “study[ing] the Holocaust and genocide and American ideals in vacuums,” Higgins said. She went on to say that the arrangement linking events such as the Holocaust to other genocides shows “what happens when prejudice and hatred go unchecked.”

The Holocaust Wing

The Holocaust/Shoah wing, with walls painted the garish red, black, and white of the Nazi regime, greets the viewer with a visual cacophony. It is organized geographically; one walks through a timeline of the countries whose citizens were targeted and devastated by the Holocaust, and can listen to and watch testimony of 68 Dallas survivors at video stations throughout the exhibit. The World War II boxcar, a part of the museum since it first opened, now contains a video of survivors describing the terrible conditions they were subjected to while forced to ride in similar boxcars. 

From there, the museum details the major death camps, the world’s response — or lack of it — to the Holocaust as reports streamed in, and the eventual liberation of the camps by Allied forces. A wall, with pictures of survivors who settled in Dallas, ends the first exhibit, before visitors walk through an open doorway into the Human Rights Wing.

The Human Rights Wing

The wing begins by presenting the 12 trials of the United States Nuremberg Military Tribunals, known as “Subsequent Nuremberg Proceedings,” during which more than 185 defendants were tried for their involvement in the genocide perpetuated by Hitler’s regime. 

Twenty-four Nazi party leaders and collaborators were sentenced for crimes against peace and humanity in the original Nuremberg tribunals, charges that hadn’t existed on an international level before the trials. 

The exhibit makes clear how the tribunals led to the Convention of Human Rights, on which the next room focuses. There, an art installation featuring peaceful blues, oranges and greens, lines one wall. This provides a welcome chance to reflect on what has taken place in the past, and the lengths we still have to go as a world to make human rights possible for all.

The final room of the exhibit, the Genocide Gallery, brings the chaos of the Holocaust/Shoah wing back in full force. For each of the “10 Stages of Genocide,” taken from a list created by Gregory H. Stanton, president of Genocide Watch, the museum presents three-dimensional displays of historical genocides from around the world. 

Each display personalizes each event to a new generation, by telling the stories of the people targeted in these cruel acts. The appeal to visitors, to stand up for human rights when they see these possible stages in their own community — for example, discrimination or dehumanization — is equally clear.

‘Pivot to America’

“Pivot to America” is the most interactive part of the three wings, featuring more than 15 touch screen timelines charting the discrimination faced by Latinos, African-Americans, women and LGBTQ individuals, as well as ongoing efforts to gain rights and protections for them in the United States. 

Each of the displays can be read alone or in groups, and the wealth of information means it takes hours to get through it all in one visit. As Higgins explains, “[this] gives them the power to look at the content and decide what they want to explore. And, hopefully, people will keep coming back.”

The exhibit ends with a Call to Action gallery, where visitors can use one last touch screen to become involved with a local nonprofit that is doing work in which they might be interested. . 

“You leave this museum with a sense of wanting to do something, so we wanted to capture that sense before they leave and life takes over,” Higgins said. 

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