Many towns and cities have their own Holocaust memorials or museums. On today, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I encourage you to find a place in your community where you can learn more about your town’s citizens who survived the Holocaust. In Richmond, Virginia, we are lucky to have a fantastic and moving museum, the Virginia Holocaust Museum.
This museum is housed in the former American Tobacco Company Warehouse, located in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom area alongside the Kanawha Canal and Virginia Capital Trail. It is currently open for self-guided tours although tickets are limited due to coronavirus restrictions. Be sure to obtain your free tickets in advance here. As with most Holocaust museums, some of the content in the museum is for mature viewing only so I recommend a visit for middle school children and older. Read the museum’s narrative guide with your children before your visit.
The museum’s entrance is striking, with a boxcar on railroad tracks serving as the focal point. Your children will be awed with walking through the doors with every detail containing meaning. Don’t miss the authentic iron rails from a Polish railway which led to the Treblinka extermination camp.
The interior of the museum is vast and expansive with several exhibit and meeting spaces. You’ll start your tour in the theater where the movie tells the story of the Holocaust through the survivors’ eyes. It is quite moving and informative but be forewarned it does contain some graphic content.
The core exhibit tells the story of the Holocaust in a stunningly visual way. I got chills when I first visited the exhibit because it places you directly in the horrific locations, from a concentration camp to the streets of a German city during Kristallnacht. The entrance to the exhibit alone is memorable.
The first exhibit is about the extermination camps and when you turn the corner into it, be prepared to gasp. It looks like it was plucked from a history book and put in the museum. Younger children may be frightened by the use of mannequins so be sure to prepare them ahead of time.
You’ll learn about a famous Richmond family, the Thalhimers, and how they used their farm in rural Virginia to save the lives of many European Jews.
The next room puts you in a German street during Kristallnacht and the terror the Jewish people must have felt is palpable. My son really was struck by the sound of crinkling glass made by the floor tiles.
One of the most fascinating yet tragic stories the museum explores is the fate of the German ocean liner, the St. Louis. The ship had 937 passengers, almost all Jewish refugees from Germany, and sailed in May 1939. Destined for Cuba, most of the passengers were not allowed to disembark there and then were denied entry into the United States. The ship had to sail back to Europe and eventually 254 of the passengers perished in the Holocaust. The exhibit here at the museum tells this story in heartbreaking detail.
The next exhibits take you through the Kovno ghetto. My son was shocked by the exhibit with the amount of food rations for a week’s meals. It was barely enough for one meal and brought home to him the horrors of living in a ghetto.
Some of the exhibits are art installations that will haunt you.
The next exhibits tell a family’s story of survival through the ghetto and eventual escape. The Ipson family was aided by many along the way and their struggle to freedom is told in a visceral way. You’ll find yourself walking through the farm and squatting in the potato hole with the Ipson family. It really brings history to life.
The Hall of Remembrance is one where you’ll want to linger, reading the touching stories of bravery and survival.
Note the Children’s Remembrance exhibit has a large picture that may disturb younger children so move quickly through this section as needed.
The final exhibits tell the story of liberation at the concentration camps. Children will find the walk through a box car with realistic train sounds moving but you may want to walk quickly through the next few rooms, including the crematorium, with younger children.
After you leave the core exhibit, take a left to the Palace of Justice exhibit. This realistic exhibit puts you in the middle of the Nuremberg Courtroom where the International Military Tribunal tried the Nazis on war crimes. It is shockingly realistic and fascinating.
You will also want to peek into the synagogue here. Before you leave, be sure to visit the Tower of Remembrance and any additional exhibits located upstairs.
The Virginia Holocaust Museum is a moving memorial to all of those who went through the horrors of the Holocaust. If your teenager is learning about this time period in history class, a visit to this museum is a must. The way we can “walk through history” at this museum is unparalleled and brings home this terrible time period from history to ensure that we never forget and never let it happen again.
- Cost: free
- Recommended: 12 and up (be sure to talk to your child before going about some of the images and things they’ll learn)
- Tour time: 1 hour
- Gift shop located onsite
- Transportation: The museum has plenty of free parking directly across Cary Street from its building. If you park in the overflow lot, don’t miss walking through the flood wall!
- Dining options: One of our family’s favorite Richmond restaurants is a short walk away – Bottom’s Up Pizza. Another nearby favorite is Station 2.
- Nearby hotels: Check out my Richmond guide for ideas!
- Nearby attractions include: Site of the infamous Civil War Libby prison (look for Civil War Trails marker just outside of the parking lot), Virginia Capital Trail, Poe Museum, Richmond Slave Trail, The Valentine – First Freedom Center, and Historic St. John’s Church
Books to Read:
Books to Read: There are so many books written about the Holocaust, and I’ve listed some of my favorites or best-known below. See a more extensive list compiled by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum here.
All links are Amazon affiliate links.
- 14 and up:
- 10 and up:
- 6 and up: