March 30, 2015

For The Dead and the Living, We Must Bear Witness

A visit to the Virginia Holocaust Museum has been on my Virginia bucket list for years, and yet it ultimately took twenty-two years of living in Virginia before I finally found myself there.  It's not exactly a visit that induces excitement like a theme park or a festival.  But it was a visit I felt I needed to make and finally made time to do four weeks ago, accompanied by two of my sisters.

The Virginia Holocaust Museum
2000 E Cary Street
Richmond, VA 23223

Monday through Friday: 10:00-5:00
Saturday and Sunday:  11:00-5:00

Free Admission.  Free parking in attached lot between the building and the railroad tracks/canal walk.

The potato-field bunker recreation. There was barely room
for a grown adult to sit upright.
From the moment I parked the car in the chain-fence, barbed-wire parking lot, I could feel the heaviness of the Holocaust weigh on me.  A lone train car sat in front of the museum, reminding visitors and passersby of the inhumane conditions inflicted on millions of people not so long ago.  Railroad ties and tracks flanked either side of the gangway to the museum entrance, and a sign indicated that they originated from tracks leading in to a concentration camp in Europe.  This museum truly brings the Holocaust home.

Throughout the entire museum, there are bits and pieces of original material from concentration camps or personal belongings from survivors - and victims.  What differentiates this museum from, say, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. is that it focuses on the stories of survivors who ultimately settled in Richmond, which brings a very personal touch to an event which can sometimes appear distant in history books.  You can't help but feel the anxiety of the Ipp family as you crawl through the recreated potato field bunker which housed thirteen people as they avoided being thrown into the Kovno Ghetto in Kaunas, Lithuania.  You can feel the panic well up inside you as you enter the gas chambers labeled as an innocuous "Bath House."  It's hard to hold back tears as you survey the Children's Remembrance Wall, which displays the artwork and poetry of children held in Terezin Concentration Camp outside of Prague.  I had seen many of the original drawings when visiting the Jewish Quarter in Prague, but seeing the copies in Richmond further brought this atrocity home.  I looked down at my thirteen year old sister and tried to imagine her enduring the Holocaust.  I couldn't stomach the thought.

Photos of civilians who risked their lives to save Jews and of the soldiers who liberated concentration camps.

It is easy to forget.  Make a point to remember.
As we left the museum after a two hour visit, we ventured into the shadows of the cattle train car we walked by when we first arrived.  Sunlight poked through a few round holes in the wood, remnants of tree knots or perhaps bullet holes from the Nazis who shot into the car for amusement.  Suddenly, a train whistle pierced the air, and the rattling of train cars persisted for the next few minutes.  The sounds transported us and brought claustrophobia and fear.  I closed my eyes and let the thought of that suffering weigh on me.  I prayed that our generation would stand up against the threat of current and future Holocausts.

Shaken, somber, and reflective, we stepped back into the sunlight of the sidewalk, vowing to never forget.


When you think upon the Holocaust of the 1930s and 1940s, please be mindful of the genocide of people groups happening today.  Christians are being slaughtered in Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, and countless other countries simply for their religion.  

Remember - evil triumphs when good men do nothing.

Linking up with Chasing the Donkey, Pack Me To, A Southern Gypsy, The Fairytale Traveler, and Ice Cream & Permafrost for the #SundayTraveler!

Linking up with Bonnie RoseAmandaCaityMarcella, and Michelle for #TravelTuesday!


  1. Oh wow, I didn't know Virginia had a Holocaust museum! It sounds like it's really good (though I hate using the word "good" in any Holocaust context, but you know what I mean). I've been to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, and also visited Dachau while I was in Munich. Like you said, it's hard to be excited about visiting these kinds of places, but both were things I 100% needed to do. They were unbelievable eye-opening experiences.

    1. Wow. I don't want to say that I'd "love" to visit Dachau or Auschwitz or Birkenau, but you would know what I mean. I think everyone should visit a Holocaust museum if not an actual site. We've been to Germany several times, but have yet to visit a camp. I don't think we'll be able to this year, but it's something that I feel I need to do.

  2. Had no idea this existed in Richmond. Really interesting place & a wonderful write up of it.

    1. Thanks, it's very much worth a visit. I've been told by others that they'll give you an audio guide in which you're assigned to a certain survivor and you follow their story through the Holocaust. I don't know if they do that only on certain days, but I didn't have that experience. I definitely think I'll be back whenever I need another reminder.

  3. I didn't know Virginia had a Holocaust museum. Displays like these are important in today's world as a reminder of the past. It can be so easy to get sucked into our own personal drama and forget the atrocities that happened in the past and even today. I haven't been to any of the concentration camps in Europe even when presented with the opportunity (long story), but I have visited a few of the museums especially in Berlin. Really moving places.

  4. I didn't know there was a Holocaust museum in Virginia. I'm glad you were able to go and share it with us!

  5. Such an important (and sad) part of our history that we must never forget so that it never happens again. Beautiful piece.


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