Unit 5 Personal Action

Chapter 3 Museums and Monuments


Ask yourself:

  • How do modern museums enhance and further our understanding of human rights?
  • How does the visual impact of art encourage us to further explore issues of human rights?

This chapter begins by exploring the transformation of museums from places designed to preserve the past, to institutions that ask us to look at issues of oppression of groups of people. The mandate of these exhibits is to prevent further violations of human rights. The study begins with written and visual examples of the museum at Auschwitz and provides an authentic simulation of life in the concentration camps. You will then be asked along with other students to examine why the 300 Holocaust museums located on six continents, differ from each other.

The chapter then, draws your attention to a number of newer museums devoted to specific issues of human rights. These issues include the Slave Trade, Apartheid in South Africa and the mistreatment of our First Nations people in Canada. The last section of the chapter focuses on a picture study and asks you to examine a number of memorials to determine the emotional impact they have on the observer.

Daniel Libeskind, famous architect, talks about his works devoted to specific human rights issues

Did you know?

The first known museum was established in Alexandria Egypt in the 3rd Century. Today there are more than 55,000 museums in 202 countries. For many centuries the purpose of museums was mainly to care for objects of cultural, scientific and artistic importance to the community. As well, museums were places where scholars could research the past and where the community could gain understanding of their local or national history.

Today, museums have changed along with changes in society. There is a growing belief that in addition to their original mandates, museums should now be places that foster peace, democracy and transparency and by representing our diverse society, can also promote unity and cultural understanding. In the next few pages we will look at some museums whose main focus is to promote knowledge, discussion and debate about issues of human rights.

A major example of a museum focusing on human rights, is the Museum at the former Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz in Poland. The Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau is located on the actual site of the concentration camp where over 1.1 million people were gassed to death by the Nazis during World War II. Of these, 90% were Jews – members of a religion and ethnic group who Hitler wished to totally exterminate. You can take a full tour of the Museum at Auschwitz at a number of Youtube sites.

At the Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau the displays are mounted in the barracks in which the prisoners were held. The walls of the barracks are lined with floor to ceiling display cases that hold thousands of articles that were taken from the prisoners before they were exterminated. One display case holds over 110,000 pairs of shoes taken from the prisoners when they arrived at Auschwitz. Another overflows with over 3800 suitcases many of which have the prisoners’ names still marked on them. The visitor to this museum, looking at display cases packed full of baby shoes or filled with eyeglasses can begin to truly understand the impact of The Holocaust. This is a museum that leads to thoughts and discussions of human rights and promotes awareness and discussion of human rights among younger people. The Museum at Auschwitz and other Holocaust museums include learning centres that provide lessons and curriculum materials for classrooms across the world. http://en.auschwitz.org/m/

Elie Weisel, a Holocaust survivor and noted author wrote the following about the Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau:

“Open your heart, visitor. And your mind. And your soul. As you walk through the exhibition, ‘Shoah, ’ (Holocaust) and you are enveloped by the sights and sounds of the past, hear the voices of the victims, see the drawings of the children, touch the names of the murdered, take with you a message that only the dead can give the living. That of remembrance.”

Other Holocaust Museums

There are over 300 Holocaust museums and memorials on six continents. The magnitude and cruelty of the Holocaust made it a priority for many countries to honour those who died in the Holocaust so we can better understand this calamity and to prevent it from happening again. These museums and memorials have a goal to encourage people to stand up against genocides wherever they occur. Holocaust museums are often very different from each other in size, architecture and the countries in which they are located. They are often different from each other in what they choose to include and what they choose to omit.

Action 1  


Holocaust Museums

Use the diagram below to discuss why Holocaust museums can be very different from each other. How would each of the following factors determine what artifacts and displays the curator chooses for each museum?

The country where the museum is located
The amount of money you have available
Whether your country was occupied by the Nazis
How many survivors or their families live in your community

Some Different Holocaust Museums

The ‘Shoah’( Holocaust) Foundation’s Visual Archive

The stated purpose of this video museum is to overcome prejudice, intolerance and bigotry—and the suffering they cause—through the educational use of the Foundation’s visual history testimonies. Steven Spielberg, the noted film director, believed that the best way to understand is to record the events through survivor testimonies. The Archive now includes more than 52,000 testimonies of Holocaust survivors and witnesses. The Foundation has now completed indexing over half the testimonies as a first step in making the videos available to everyone. They hope to complete his project over the next few years. You can see a video about the Shoah Foundation on youtube.

The Holocaust Museum, Paris

A Holocaust museum noted for its architecture opened in Paris in 2005. The structure at the entrance of the museum looks like a walled fortification. The walls in front of the entrance to the museum are engraved with the names of 76,000 French Jewish men women and children who died without a grave. The crypt contains the ashes of victims collected from the camps.

Action 2  


Human Rights Museums

As you read and discuss each of the Human Rights Museums, work with a partner to make a list of five questions you have about each museum. At the end of the discussion, try to find the answers to each of your questions by referring to the website beside the name of each museum.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR)

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) is the only museum in the world solely devoted to human rights awareness and education; it stands as a beacon for visitors from around the globe. As an “ideas” museum, the CMHR tells powerful stories about human rights events and champions, inviting participation in the ongoing human rights dialogue – making educational programming an important part of the visitor experience.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR), Winnipeg, Canada enlarge image
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR), Winnipeg, Canada

Credit: Courtesy of CMHR

The International Slavery Museum

This museum was established in 2007 on the 200-year anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the United Kingdom. This museum covers the impact of trans-Atlantic trade but has expanded to discuss freedom and identity, underdevelopment in Africa and the Caribbean and racial discrimination in the country at large. This museum is considered of such significance that it is planning to expand into their new grand building pictured below.

A picture of a brick museum with big columns in front of the entrance enlarge image
The planned International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, England

Credit: Jonathan Oldenbuck

The Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia

This museum focuses on the First Nation Peoples of British Columbia as well as other diverse communities. Among its other exhibits, this museum provides insight into the culture of the First Nations of British Columbia. This picture is from one of their exhibits on residential schools in British Columbia.

An old black and white photo of a group of seven Aboriginal schoolgirls in front of a residential school enlarge image
Archival photo St. Michael’s Residential School.

Class picture from a residential school with the names of each student written on the photo.

Credit: Courtesy of the Audrey & Harry Hawthorn Library and Archives, UBC Museum of Anthropology

The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg South Africa

This Museum opened in 2001. A Series of 22 individual exhibits takes the visitor through an emotional journey of a state-sanctioned system based on racial discrimination. The museum shows how South Africa is coming to terms with its past and working toward a future that all South Africans can call their own.

Poster for the Apartheid Museum consisting of four pillars emerging from the ground with the words, “Democracy”, “Equality”, “Reconciliation”, and “Diversity inscribed on them. enlarge image
The Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg, South Africa

Source: NJR ZA

The pillars outside the Apartheid Museum say, Democracy, Equality, Reconciliation, and Diversity. This very large museum complex is entirely devoted to state-approved racial discrimination.

In 1948, as people the world over realized the scope, cruelty and devastation of the Holocaust, the United Nations issued The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


1. We Are All Born Free & Equal.

2. Don’t Discriminate.

3. The Right to Life.

4. No Slavery.

5. No Torture.

6. You Have Rights No Matter Where You Go.

7. We’re All Equal Before the Law.

8. Your Human Rights Are Protected by Law.

9. No Unfair Detainment.

10. The Right to Trial.

11. We’re Always Innocent Till Proven Guilty.

12. The Right to Privacy.

13. Freedom to Move. We all have the right to go where we want in our own country and to travel as we wish.

14. The Right to Seek a Safe Place to Live.

15. Right to a Nationality.

This simplified version of the thirty Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been created especially for young people.

Action 3  


A Gallery of Human Rights

After you have discussed the basic Human Rights outlined in the United Nations Charter of Human Rights, organize the class in groups with three students in each.

As a group, select three categories of Human Rights that you consider to be most important to you. Discuss how each of these three is relevant to your school or community.

As a group, select one of your three choices that you feel should be the focus of its own Human Rights exhibit. Create a poster advertising the exhibit you think is important. Your poster should have the following components:

  • A clear indication of the Human Right to which your exhibit is devoted
  • A Statement of why that Right is so important
  • Visuals highlighting that right. These may include drawings, pictures, newspaper clippings, poetry, cartoons, editorials, letters and whatever visuals you feel will help others to understand the importance of that Human Right.
  • When your posters are complete; you may wish to mount them in the corridors near your classroom and invite other classes to tour your Gallery of Human Rights.
  • You may also wish to take pictures of your posters and publish them in your school newsletter or your local newspaper.

Action 4  

A Century of Genocide: Museum Exhibit

You are planning to create posters to support a special exhibit entitled, A Century of Genocide: 1915 to 2015. The purpose of the exhibit is to recognize additional historical situations from this time period that are not featured in permanent collections. The exhibit wants to see how the events and actions of people in power met the criteria of being called “Acts of Genocide”.


Creating A Museum Submission
  • Groups of three will be formed based on the following roles:
    • Team Planning Manager
      • Engages in research and writing of information
      • Ensures that the team functions in completing the task on time
      • Reports back to the teacher with any questions/needs from the team
      • Coordinates the physical assembly of the poster
    • Team Design Manager
      • Engages in research and writing of information
      • Responsible with consultation of group members for the design and layout of the poster
      • Sees that there is consistency in production of the various elements
    • Team Presentation Manager
      • Engages in research and writing of information
      • Develops the ‘talking point script’ for the gallery walk
      • Uses the talking points to educate observers on the group’s poster
  • Each group will be assigned one of the following situations to research:
    • The government of Josef Stalin in the USSR, 1932-1939
    • The government of Idi Amin in Uganda, 1969-1979
    • The government of Yahya Khan in Bangladesh, 1970-1971
    • The government of Pol Pot in Cambodia, 1975-1979
    • The government of Yakubu Gowan in Biafra, 1967-1970
    • The government of Charles Taylor in Liberia, 1989-1996
    • The government of General Suharto in East Timor, 1975-1998
    • The government of Efrain Rios Montt in Guatemala, 1982-1983
    • The government of Saddam Hussein in Kurdistan, 1987-1989
    • The government of Omar al-Bashir in Darfur, 1999-2003
  • Research will be conducted by the group starting with the 5Ws: who, what, why, when and where. Additional questions will be developed by the group to help analyze the actions of the leaders, e.g., do the actions of the government meet the criteria of being called genocide?
  • The group needs to create an annotated bibliography of the 3 to 5 best sources of information. Why was this source useful?
  • The poster should be around 18 x 24 inches in size. Consider the following in creating your posters:
    • A map to show where the country is located
    • Pictures of key individuals
    • A background fact sheet: population of the country, key features of the country, events that took place during this period, and timeline
    • Pictures that might support the group's interpretation of the events
    • An organizer that helps one understand how the event researched meets or doesn't meet the criteria of being called a genocide
    • Use the feedback rubric to guide the development of your poster
    • Before final submission of your poster your group will act as ‘critical friends’ with another group. You will explain your poster and ‘your friends’ will offer suggestions on how to enhance your poster before final submission
    • The class will do a gallery walk of the posters with the Team Presentation Manager explaining the key features of your poster to the viewers
  • After the posters are submitted and posted in your classroom or designated area, each individual in your class will nominate one poster in a 150-word letter. The selected poster will become part of the permanent collection and the Centre. You cannot nominate your own entry. State the criteria you used for making this judgment and how this nominated poster meets these criteria.

See below - Feedback rubric for critical friends, was built around the achievement chart and may be used for your careful consideration.

Museum Exhibit Feedback
Name of submission: Reviewers:
Museum Exhibit Feedback
Name of submission: Reviewers:
Criteria Level 4 Level 3 Level 2 Level 1

Communication: Elements of a Poster

  • Design/Layout/Reader friendly/Use of organizer
  • Illustrations
    - Size
    - Instructs, as well as is attractive
  • Title
  • Very easily read
  • Variety of font size clearly emphasizes the key ideas and message
  • Illustrations very clearly enhance information

Knowledge: Quality and Quantity of Information

  • Clear and complete information built around key questions
  • Information is very comprehensive and connected to key questions

Thinking: Relevance of Materials Selected

  • A clear connection between criteria of a genocide and materials selected
  • Uses unique ideas in the display which interests the viewers
  • Material selected is relevant and clearly connected to criteria of genocide
  • The poster’s message was clearly and concisely presented
  • Many original ideas in materials and layout

Inquiry: Research

  • Evidence of use of multiple sources
  • Useful and complete annotated bibliography in proper form
  • Effectively uses several primary sources to develop the narrative of the poster
  • Provides complete annotated bibliography of three sources

What we really liked about this poster was……
What we didn’t understand or what we need more information about was…..
We would suggest improving your poster by…..
The thing that we will remember the most about this poster at this time is….

Signed by ‘critical friends’:

Action 5  


Memorials and our Understanding of Human Rights

While museums encourage our understanding of human rights by allowing us to spend time seeing, studying and interacting with exhibits over several hours of several visits, memorials tend to have a more immediate and dramatic impact on us. A memorial is a structure designed to honour or remember a person or event, which is important to the community. Often memorials are works of art using forms and images to relate the story they want to tell or which generate discussion the artist hopes will result from viewing it. There are hundreds of memorials across the world to commemorate those who died, with the goal of making us think of ways to ensure this does not happen again.

From the following pictures select the memorial that is the most meaningful to you and write a short paper about it:

  • Explain what you see in the memorial.
  • How does the memorial have an impact on your understanding of human rights?

A. The Last March, Jerusalem

This memorial is a bronze relief depicting the mass export of Jews to concentration camps. You will see that the memorial shows old people, children, men and women of ages. What does this memorial say to you?

A bronze plaque depicting a group of Jews looking down, being led by Nazi soldiers to a concentration camp enlarge image
The Last March, Jerusalem

Credit: Yad Vashem

B. Shoes on the Shores of the Danube, Budapest, Hungary

This memorial is made up of 60 pairs of iron shoes, each attached to the cement platform. The memorial commemorates the lives of those Jews who were shot into the Danube River by the Hungarian fascist organization called, The Arrow Cross.

Shoes were valuable possessions by 1944, close to the end of the war, so the prisoners were told to take of their shoes before they were shot into the river. This simple memorial is very powerful.

A picture of sixty pairs of iron shoes affixed to a cement platform beside the Danube River enlarge image
Shoes on the Shores of the Danube, Budapest, Hungary

Credit: Yad Vashem

C. Trains to Life, Trains to Death, Berlin, Germany

This memorial commemorates two events. As you observe the photo, the children on the left represent the 1.6 million children who died in the Holocaust. The children on the right represent the 10,000 children who were granted entry into England and thus survived the Holocaust.

A metal monument with children and an empty suitcase on one side, and school children on the other enlarge image
Trains to Life, Trains to Death, Berlin, Germany

Source: Permission granted by artist, Frank Meisler

Two Memorials in Canada by Daniel Libeskind

A new Holocaust Memorial in Ottawa was inaugurated on September 27, 2017 by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The concept design is by Daniel Libeskind a world-renowned architect (Ground Zero in New York and the Jewish Museum in Berlin), Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky, landscape architect Claude Cormier and U. of Toronto Holocaust scholar Doris Bergen. The design represents an elongated Star of David, and a reminder of the yellow stars Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust.



A wooden model for the national Holocaust monument, with four Canadian flags behind it enlarge image
Model of the National Holocaust Memorial in Ottawa, by Daniel Libeskind

Credit: Canada Press
Photo: Sean Kilpatrick

Memorial to the Jews on the MS St. Louis who were turned away in 1939

Daniel Libeskind’s Wheel of Conscience in Halifax at Canada’s Immigration Museum at Pier 21, memorializes the voyage of the MS St. Louis (see Unit Three; chapter 2). Most refugees and immigrants arrived in Canada at Pier 21 from 1928 to 1971. Canada’s immigration doors were closed under the administration of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. After WWII when the exclusionary immigration policies were revised, it was reopened.

The steel memorial has four gears with interlocking teeth that enable it to be turned by a motor. The words HATRED-RACISM-XENOPHOBIA-ANTISEMITISM are shown in relief on the front. Each wheel operates at different speeds and combined, the 3 smaller gears move the largest one of ANTISEMITISM. As the gears turn they recreate the image of the ship at set intervals.

A metal and glass circular installation, consisting of different sized cogs seen through the glass in the middle, with “anti-Semitism, xenophobia, racism, and hatred” written on them. enlarge image
Wheel of Conscience by Daniel Libeskind

Credit: Steve Kaiser Photography
Photo Credit: Canadian Jewish Congress