Thursday, 2 September 2010

The Imperial War Museum and The Holocaust Exhibition

To my shame I have only just visited The Holocaust Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in South London. It was just as sad and disturbing as I imagined but what I hadn’t anticipated was the combination of compassion and scholarship, which managed to interweave the breadth of history with personal stories. The visitor is engaged intellectually as much as emotionally.
The exhibition is more than a memorial to six million Jews and the groups who became victims of the Nazi death marches and extermination camps. It captures the very best and the very worst of which human beings are capable.
The horror unfolds slowly – for it is a large exhibition – from the blood libels of the Middle Ages to the industrialisation of mass murder in Hitler’s Germany.
Towards its close Edmund Burke’s challenge “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” does pose the unspoken accusation why the Allies didn’t do more to disrupt the Nazi extermination machine.
The fate of the Third Reich was sealed when the US and Russia entered the war after Britain’s successful resistance. But it must have suited the Allies’ cause that in its madness Nazi Germany was prepared to divert so many of its resources to pursuing the Final Solution.
There is an adjacent Crimes against humanity gallery, which emphasises that Burke’s words are just as relevant today.
Taken together with the rest of the displays, the Imperial War Museum is the most fit for purpose exhibition space I have encountered anywhere in the world.
The Holocaust Exhibition has to be seen at least once by everyone over the age of 14. Yet there is so much else at the museum to grip the attention of adults and children alike from the military hardware, the examination of the First and Second World Wars, and conflicts since 1945. The Home Front is not forgotten.
There are exhibits aimed particularly at children but not once did I see anything that might adversely influence an impressionable mind. Bravery and sacrifice was always to the forefront at the expense of any jingoism. This comes through most clearly in the subject matter of the war artists on display.
The Lord Ashcroft Gallery opens in November. It features his unique collection of Victoria Crosses – the military’s highest award for gallantry – under the title Extraordinary Heroes and I shall be returning then.

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