I highly recommend that you either order tickets online at Tickets.com or get to the museum early to get tickets. Don't be fooled into thinking that you don't need tickets just because you can enter the museum without them; the tickets grant you access to the permanent exhibit, which is the the most interesting part of the museum. The tickets have times on them, scheduled every 15 minutes from 10:00 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.
One way to bypass some of the ticket trouble is to become a member of the museum. Although members still need a ticket for timed entry, members get priority on entrance times. If you are a member, be sure to bring your membership card with you on your visit. (If you are thinking about joining, you can contact the Membership Department by calling (202) 488-2642 or writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
As an added note, be sure to arrive a bit early so that you will have time to go through the security screening.
What to See First
The permanent exhibit is the most important thing to see, so keep careful track of when your will be allowed to enter. While waiting for your time, you can visit the special exhibits, Daniel's Story, the Wall of Remembrance, the Hall of Remembrance, catch one of the films playing, stop by the museum's shop, or grab something to eat at the museum's cafe.
If you arrive close to your ticket time, head straight to the permanent exhibit.
The Permanent Exhibit
Recommended for those 11 years or older, the permanent exhibit is the main body of the museum and is filled with artifacts, displays, and visual presentations. Since the permanent exhibit requires a timed pass, try to be timely.
Before entering the elevator to go to the exhibit, each person is given a small "Identification Card." This I.D. card helps personalize the events and artifacts that you are soon to see. Inside, there is information about a person who lived during the Holocaust - some are Jewish, some are not; some are adults, some are children; some survived, some did not.
After reading the first page of the booklet, you are not supposed to turn the page until you are done with the first floor of the exhibit (which is actually the fourth floor since you start on the fourth floor then work your way down).
In the elevator, you are greeted with the voice of a liberator who describes what he saw when finding the camps. When the elevator opens, you are on the fourth floor of the museum. You are allowed to go at your own pace but are on a particular path.
- The Fourth Floor
The fourth floor covers the years before the beginning of World War II. There are photographs, video displays, films, and artifacts that explain the increase of terror during 1933 to 1939. The displays describe the book burnings, the Nuremberg Laws, Nazi propaganda, the "science" of race, the Evian Conference, and Kristallnacht.
To me, one of the most powerful exhibits was an unrolled, torn Torah scroll, which the Nazis had pulled from its ark during Kristallnacht. An exhibit that continues to all three levels of the permanent exhibit are the pictures that represent the 3,500 Jewish people who lived in the Eishishok shtetl.
- The Third Floor
The third floor covers the Final Solution, 1940 to 1945. The first section of this floor is about the ghettos. Notice the stones you are walking on (there's a small sign but hardly noticeable). These originally paved a section of Chlodna Street in the Warsaw Ghetto. The next section covers the mobile killing squads, deportation, and camp life.
I found two exhibits on this floor to be very powerful. The first, is one of the cattle cars that carried the victims to the camps. The second exhibit is the one on medical experiments. With video displays in which you have to look over a concrete wall and down into (most likely to protect children from seeing it), shows very gruesome pictures of the experiments, including air pressure, seawater, and skeleton collection.
- The Second Floor
The second floor is the "Last Chapter" which covers the rescuers, resistance, and liberation. There are a lot of visual pictures documenting what was found in the camps. For most of the victims, liberation had come to late.
The special exhibits change frequently but are certainly worth going through. Ask at the information booth in the central floor of the museum for information (and maybe a brochure?) on the exhibits. Some recent and past exhibits include the Kovno Ghetto, the Nazi Olympics, and the St. Louis.
Remember the Children: Daniel's Story
Daniel's Story is an exhibit for children. It usually has a line to go in and is crowded throughout the exhibit's path. You start the exhibit with a short film (you remain standing) in which you are introduced to Daniel, a young Jewish boy. The premise of the exhibit is that you are walking through Daniel's house looking at things that Daniel used everyday. It is through touch that the children learn about Daniel. For instance you can flip through an enlarged copy of Daniel's diary in which he has written a few short descriptions; look in a the drawer of Daniel's desk; move windows up and down to see before and after scenes.
Wall of Remembrance (Children's Tile Wall)
In a corner of the museum there are 3,000 tiles painted by American children to remember the 1.5 million children murdered in the Holocaust. You could stand for hours in front of these tiles, trying to look at each one, for each tile has a very unique scene or image.
Hall of Remembrance
Silence fills this six-sided room. It is a place for remembering. In the front is a flame. Above the flame reads:
Only guard yourself and guard your soul carefully, lest you forget the things your eyes saw, and lest these things depart your heart all the days of your life. And you shall make them known to your children, and to your children's children.
--- Deuteronomy 4:9