Tourism with tears in horror museum

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 September, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 September, 1993, 12:00am

TOURISTS are grim-faced, some even in tears when they visit one of Washington's latest attractions. The Holocaust Memorial Museum is not a pleasant place to visit. The horror of the Holocaust is told in tiny detail: the date that all Jewish lawyers in Germany were disbarred; the systematic killing of physically and mentally disabled Germans; the hair of Holocaust victims - thousands of pounds of it - collected and baled.

In spite of the morbid exhibits, more than 2,000 free tickets are snatched up daily. To ensure entry, reservations must be made four to six weeks in advance.

The exhibition begins on the fourth floor and winds downward. The first sounds and pictures are of American soldiers liberating a concentration camp. The information is delivered in four, and sometimes five, ways - text, artefacts, photographs, film and voices.

In November 1938, ''Kristallnacht,'' the attack on synagogues and Jewish businesses, further isolates the Jews. Poland is attacked in 1939. The killing of 70,000 mentally and physically disabled Germans in hospitals and asylums. The crowd keeps moving you along.

Pictures and words show the decision to annihilate the Jews - mechanised murder that begins in 1941 as the first Jews are gassed in Poland.

More from the ghetto. Film of bodies being buried in Warsaw. No narration - none needed.

In the Auschwitz section, an area is set aside to sit and listen through loudspeakers to the voices of Auschwitz survivors. The stories put lumps in your throat.

Nearby, the Zyklon B canisters that held the pellets that dropped through vents, burst and released deadly gas.

Three television screens enclosed by a five-foot-high wall showing gruesome Nazi medical experiments on prisoners.

Then there are the shoes, 4,000 of them, from Majdanek in Poland: sandals, boots, suede shoes, baby shoes, gold lame, leather shoes, a room full of shoes.

Finally, the film of the survivors, interviews with the men and women talking about living through hell.