After World War II, my grandparents found themselves living in Displaced Persons camps. If family lore is correct, they had both escaped from Labor and prisoner-of-war camps. Unable to return to Poland, they were unsure of what the future held. Somehow they were gifted refuge in Australia. My grandfather arrived in Fremantle and my Grandmother in Adelaide. They met some time later, married, moved to Tasmania and had three children. Neither were to see their homeland again. Neither were to be reunited with their families. I was to grow up with a family tree that went back as far as their names and with little knowledge of my paternal history.
In order to protect my children, I have been a little resistant to discussing the War that led my grandparents to come to Australia or the atrocities acted out by the Nazi regime during World War II. Over time my views have been changing as I realise that knowledge is power and it is only through education that we have a chance of preventing this happening again. With this in mind I agreed to visit the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) – www.lamoth.org on our recent trip to California when T suggested it.
LAMOTH has been developed to both commemorate those that lost their lives during the Holocaust and to honour those that survived, whilst also providing free Holocaust education. It houses not only precious artefacts that have survived, but the many stories of survival. It also reveals the blistering and shocking history of a regime that ripped through Europe and changed our history for ever. Whilst it is very much a story that focuses on what happened to the Jews of Europe, many of the exhibits also depict and discuss the victimisation of Catholics, Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, political dissenters, and others targeted by the Nazis.
My children walked around the museum, passing through each exhibit and asking countless questions. The initial exhibits look at Europe pre-war. We found some stories from Poland and spoke how my grandparents had perhaps lived in similar ways to that we saw. A large touch screen computer table helped us to explore The World That Was and learn about European Jews lives in more detail.
The Rise of Nazism were the next exhibits. I needed to remember to breathe. A few of the heroic efforts made by others to stop or save jews is looked at here too. This exhibit makes you stop and think how the Holocaust was able to grip parts of Europe so easily. We shouldn’t forget this. We should reflect on this regularly.
From here we moved on to the exhibits that looked specifically at Deportation & Extermination and Labor/Concentration/Death Camps. They are presented in a very objective way, facts artefacts and stories told. We learned about 18 different concentration camps, using interactive monitors to find their location and discover a little about the world of that camp. I was horrified and weeped silently, pushing myself to read and to watch everything that was on display. The kids just asked more questions. I think their innocence protected them from really grasping what we were learning.
I found the Tree of Testimony extremely powerful. Here the unbelievable stories of survivors are told through a dramatic array of video screens. It gave me hope.
LAMOTH can be found at 100 S. The Grove Drive, Los Angeles. There is limited free parking available in the Museum’s underground parking lot, accessible from The Grove Drive. The site does observe Jewish holidays and Christmas, so check here for opening days and hours.
If you are hoping to visit but unsure if it can be accommodated in your travelling budget, please note that LAMOTH is always free thanks to the founding Survivors who insisted that no visitors should ever be turned away from learning about the Holocaust for lack of an entry fee.