Respecting Tradition at the Holocaust Museum

Years ago, I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC shortly after it opened. I was overwhelmed by the different exhibits. The story told of that horrible time was both moving and profoundly depressing. I still remember details, especially the smell of leather when I entered a room where shoes of the murdered were collected. It’s interesting to me that olfactory memories are so pronounced.

One of the most moving parts of my time there came at the end, when we sat in a theater watching video of Holocaust survivors telling their stories. There were signs everywhere instructing people to show respect for the setting and the people on the screen by not taking pictures. I was sitting in the crowded theater between two people I didn’t know. Quite suddenly a woman sitting next to me pulled a camera out of her bag and snapped a picture of a man telling his story. I was flabbergasted and upset that she would violate the dignity of the room by taking a picture even with signs everywhere telling people not to do that. As I was wondering whether I should say something to her, I overheard her telling the person on the other side of her, “That’s my uncle.”

I was chastened. Sometimes, I think, one is allowed to break a rule like that.