Interpretation of the unimaginable: the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington DC, USA and 'dark tourism'

John J. Lennon, Malcom Foley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., has received visitation levels in excess of 2 million per annum since its opening in April 1993. Such a development was not without controversy. The museum’s permanent exhibition contains more than 5,000 artifacts, including photographs, uniforms, letters, and a rail car used to take Jewish prisoners and others to the death camps. Through the use of computer terminals, visitors are able to review records in newspapers, watch film clips, and hear taped interviews with Holocaust survivors. Such a concern with replication and simulation is central to the treatment and analysis of the phenomenon known as “dark tourism” (tourism of sites of death, atrocity, and mass killing). This article analyzes the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in the context of dark tourism, concluding that the museum’s nature, content, and purpose pose questions about visitor motivation, “dark” attraction development, ethical management, and the interpretation of history.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46-50
Number of pages5
Journal Journal of Travel Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1999



  • dark tourism
  • Holocaust
  • Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
  • visitor motivation

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