Opening ceremonies for the capstone building of the National World War II Museum occurred last Friday in New Orleans with 40 World War II veterans, 40 Medal of Honor winners, Holocaust survivors, home-front workers, dignitaries, and special guests in attendance, including actor Tom Hanks.
The Liberation Pavilion marks the final master-planned exhibit hall on the museum’s campus.
The exhibits in the new three-story, 33,6100-square-foot pavilion spotlight how World War II shaped the United States and continues to impact the lives of its citizens to this day.
The exhibit highlights how the legacy of World War II influenced the civil rights and women’s equality movements and the formation of international alliances to protect democracy.
In addition, visitors were reminded of the cost of the Allied victory in terms of human life and the responsibility of postwar generations to preserve freedom and human rights today.
The exhibits include a wall of military dog tags, a crate used to carry the coffin of a soldier back to his family in Ohio, a representation of a Nazi concentration camp with life-size projected images of emaciated prisoners (including a photo of a body inside a cremation oven), and a recreation of the secret annex above a shop in Amsterdam where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis.
Another Liberation Pavilion exhibit is the Monuments Men and Women gallery, a simulated salt mine that houses images of paintings and statues. The exhibit tells the story of the valuable artwork plundered by the Nazis, which they hid in salt mines and caves, and of the 21 men and women who dedicated themselves to recovering the pieces and restoring them to their rightful owners.
Dallas resident Robert Edsel played a role in bringing the exhibit to life. In 2007, he founded the Monuments Men and Women Foundation to memorialize the work of this group of soldiers and to finish what they started. His work led to four books and a 2014 Hollywood movie aptly titled The Monuments Men, starring George Clooney and Matt Damon.
In 2009, Edsel presented to the chairman of the National WWII Museum the idea of using a salt mine replica for an exhibit to honor the monuments men and women.
Edsel wrote on the foundation’s website that the gallery in Liberation Pavilion ensures that “these heroes’ legacy will be preserved for all time, one of the very first objectives of my work and the principal reason I created the Monuments Men and Women Foundation.”
Edsel, who traveled to New Orleans to be present for the grand opening of Liberation Pavilion, said the gallery provides visitors with an immersive and emotional experience to assist visitors in understanding what it was like for the monuments men and women to search salt mines and caves and discover hundreds of thousands of works of art that the Nazis had stolen, per The Dallas Morning News.
Other exhibits include an examination of the war crime trials in Nuremberg and Tokyo, a “Faith in Wartime” gallery, and a look at the Cold War. The pavilion’s third floor houses the Priddy Family Foundation Freedom Theater, where visitors can watch a film depicting “what World War II was all about and how it changed our country forever,” as Edsel described it, per the DMN.
Tom Hanks, who has been a supporter of the National WWII Museum for many years, spoke at the November 3 opening of Liberation Pavillion, calling it “an extraordinary, perhaps final, chapter here in the job and the story of the National World War II Museum,” adding that the museum’s job will never be truly finished, AL.com reported.
“It actually leaves it open to understand that the true work of building a more perfect union in an imperfect world began the day after the war ended,” Hanks said. “And it continues now, and it requires vigilance, it requires attendance, it requires the desire to seek knowledge, and it requires, too, the accumulation of wisdom that will be found by anybody who attends this museum on any given day for the rest of time.”