Volunteering at the Holocaust Museum


Courtesy of Alec Silberg

Alec Silberg stops for a picture on the ground level of the Holocaust Museum.

Hannah May, Reporter

Alec Silberg started as the youngest volunteer in The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum history at age 11. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Silberg helped make guests’ visits memorable. The museum has served as an important and memorable journey for the 45 million people it has hosted since its opening in 1993.

“History, and more specifically the Holocaust, has always been a thing of interest for me,” Silberg said. “Helping each other, Tikkun Olam (repairing the world), is extremely important to me.” Silberg, now a freshman, has seen countless visitors who were moved to tears by the exhibits they witnessed.

Silberg became a volunteer in 2017 when his grandma recommended he should come work with her. His grandmother, Dora Yockelson, has been volunteering at the museum since its opening. His normal Sunday started with hopping on the metro with Yockelson and arriving at the museum by 11 a.m. After dropping off their belongings in the staff room, Silberg would head over to the information desk.

Because he was not yet eligible to lead tours, Silberg usually gave directions and explained the available exhibits. He matched the tentative visitors to the less daunting exhibits, and the mature visitors to the more emotional ones. Unfortunately, Silberg has not been back to the museum since COVID-19 struck because there is a limit on how many people can be in the building at any given time.

The Holocaust Museum provided Silberg with several life lessons throughout his time at the museum.

“I have gotten less shy because of this, and in the beginning it was so much harder for me to communicate with people,” he said. “I also learned to connect with strangers and relate to them. I never had fun or enjoyed it per se, but I gained a lot of skills while being there. Mainly not being shy around new people, and also coming up with answers on the spot.”

Silberg often recalls the days before the pandemic, where he was able to help curious visitors and chatter with his fellow volunteers. His values as an American Jew have been changed and reinforced each day he spends at the museum.

“Since the pandemic, I’ve found myself really missing the community and the visitors. I miss helping people and showing them a new way of thinking,” Silberg said. “Every time someone comes through the museum, they take away new ideas and a new sense of empathy. I get to see that happen and be a part of it.”