Connecting with our past

When my wife and I are on holidays, we almost always visit a museum or two. Even we we’re not travelling overseas.

Some may think museums are strictly for nerds, but it’s always great to see so many normal people and happy groups there. Museums help me get into an aspect of the past, just as a book, TV documentary and many movies do.  And I find it hard to switch off let alone fall asleep when I’m on my feet instead of relaxing.

A few museum experiences that I won’t easily forget –

At the top of my list is the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. As might be expected, it is overpowering and brooding, but also serene and hope-filled, and set on a beautiful very-Judean-Hills slope on the outskirts of the city. Gallery by gallery, Yad Vashem documents the terrible things that happened to Jewish people during the mid-20th century in many of the countries of Europe and beyond. Like a death camp, once you start through the museum, you’ll find it hard to escape the designated route through all the sections.

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Appropriately but also a little sadly, no camera photos of the exhibits to take home.

Very much connected with this visit was our afternoon at the Resistance Museum (Verzetsmuseum) in Amsterdam. All four of our parents took part in resisting the Nazis who invaded the Netherlands: they helped the Underground and hid Jewish people. Both our fathers especially risked their lives. Our parents’ stories came alive, as did this part of Dutch history!

Another memorable museum we visited last year was Istanbul’s Archeological Museum, one of the larger ones scattered around Turkey, the Middle East, and (alas) some of the imperial museums of Europe and the US.  Istanbul’s huge Troy Gallery chronicles ten levels of civilization on that famous site and helped refresh what I learnt from my university study on the excavation of Lachish.

When visiting Fremantle, Western Australia, we checked out the local history museum and found its current exhibition was on the hundreds of thousands of immigrant who passed through the local harbour and nearby migrant hostel.  The exhibits also stirred many links with our family’s stories of the 1950s, and my schoolboy memories of Australia’s early unpreparedness for the arrival of non-Anglos.

It’s reputed that Australia has more maritime museums than any other country, certainly taking into account our population of only about 22 million.  Being a shiplover (which is another story), I’ve spent many happy times at all the capital city and several of the regional museums of ships and the sea, and there are many more to visit.

Australia’s best and most visited museum is without doubt the National War Memorial in Canberra, which is also worth a separate story.

C’mon, it’s not just nerdy types who find all this fascinating.


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