“Artifacts can tell a story in a powerful way.”
This quote is from our tour guide within the special exhibit, Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration and Complicity in the Holocaust, at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Our guide delivered a great tour of the exhibit as she weaved exhibit design insight and exhibit themes together. While I found many things impactful, her comment about artifacts resonated with me. During this seminar, we have been looking at many artifacts and objects that can tell stories that can have an affect on us. They challenge us, make us pause, strike us with awe, change perspectives, relate to our own stories, and more. I thought the display of a particular display of small rings that our guide pointed out the power of objects when coupled with a story.
Small, delicate looking rings look as if they are suspended in a plexiglass display (as shown below). One of them seems to be missing a part as you can only see the base of the ring. A lot can be said of the rings without knowing much about them. But, after learning their history, it become a more impactful story that tied back to the theme of neighbors making choices. The story goes that a couple, Bertha Herzfeld and her husband Hugo, were deported in 1941 and did not survive the Holocaust. Bertha had gave her gold earrings to her neighbor for safekeeping in the event that she may return one day. The neighbor had a choice to keep them or not to keep them. Fortunately, the neighbor returned the earrings to her daughters and they converted them into the rings to remember their mother.
This touching yet heartbreaking story that revolves around these objects says so much about the time period, historical events, family history, and the choices that people had to make. The objects need to be visible to tell the story since I do not think it would be as impactful with just text on a wall. At the same time too, as our guide points out, it speaks volumes that the family donated these rings to the museum. In a way, museum not only have the great responsibility of preserving and conserving objects and artifacts but also the stories attached. And, these stories keep us connected to the past and keep the memory of people alive for many future generations to come.