No way out

Bernie Graham visits The Holocaust Galleries at the Imperial War Museum.

As an Environmental Psychologist and Second Generation Holocaust survivor, my visit to this new exhibition at the Imperial War Museum (IWM) proved to be both a personal and professional challenge.

My journey began with a telephone enquiry regarding disabled access as I was being accompanied by a friend who has mobility issues. This set the tone for our visit: the staff were friendly and supportive, but they had no electric buggies, only manual wheelchairs, and there was no disabled parking available at the time we would be visiting. These frustrations were compounded by a lack of both clear instruction and signposting on arrival. 

We eventually found the right access and were directed to the entrance. A clear interpretive panel introduced the exhibition, adjacent to a huge digital monitor, about 12’ by 6’ in old money, displaying images of what appeared to be differing locations in Europe: one couldn’t be sure, as there was no written or audio explanation. However, as we moved through the exhibits there was a constant audio accompaniment, but of puzzling sounds that we couldn’t identify. 

We proceeded into the heart of the very well-attended exhibition. The hall was crowded with powerful exhibits small and large telling the story of the Nazi holocaust in chronological order – too many for myself or my companion to take in during one visit. Many were described using small interpretive cards and it was difficult to identify whether some of the items on display were replicas or original pieces. Travelling through the space was historically and emotionally challenging. My eye was drawn to a family board game ‘Jews Out’ played in German homes from the late 1930s: Jews were rounded up during the game for deportation to Palestine. The person who collected the most Jews was the winner. Vivid images of this vile entertainment and its descriptive text, informing us the Nazis tried to dissuade people from playing the game as it trivialised their racial policies, remained with me for several days. The full size cattle car used for transportation to the death camps also left a distressing and lasting imprint. At what appeared to be the final section of exhibits, there was another large screen showing small pen pictures of people. These expanded to tell the story of their family’s fate at the hands of the Nazis. I felt it was a more than fitting summary of the horrors people endured to close the exhibition. 

Unfortunately there were no signs indicating this was the end of the exhibition, and where the exit was. I pushed my friend all the way back to the entrance, to be met by the helpful and now somewhat puzzled volunteer who had earlier directed us to the exhibition hall. He took us through the ‘Exit’ door to show us the signage but to his clear surprise there were indeed no directions for the ‘Way Out’. He apologised profusely, but maybe this was a fitting epitaph to such an horrendous period in human history. When it comes to reflecting on such atrocities, is there ever a true ‘Way Out’?

- Reviewed by Bernie Graham – see also thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/monster-was-and-still-hate

 

For more information see www.iwm.org.uk/events/the-holocaust-galleries

 

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