Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Holocaust Museum 

This was a special weekend, as my wife and I took our kids to Washington DC to engage in unadulterated tourism to mark the occasion of our oldest son's 16th birthday. Time flies. We visited several of the key monuments, and for the first time we visited the Holocaust Museum.

First, let me say that it is an incredibly powerful experience, and it attracts great and diverse interest. I was impressed to see how important an attraction that it was. In terms of traffic, it was certainly the equal of the Vietnam War memorial or the Lincoln Memorial.

The Holocaust is a familar and personal story for me, so it surprises me when I learn something new about it. My parents' parents showed great wisdom and foresight (and luck) to leave Europe shortly before Hitler's ascension in Germany, and they landed in Argentina. Having said that, those in my family who lacked that great good fortune perished at the hand of the Nazis or their allies at one of several different extermination facilities.

So here's what surprised me. As I passed through one of the many rooms at the Museum, there were a series of newspapers hung along the wall - The Dallas Morning News, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the New York Times and so forth. There were generally from 1938 - a year before the German invasion of Poland and 3 years prior to American entry into the war.

There were literally banner headlines in each newspaper emphasizing Nazi activities viz. Jews. Hitler's view of Jews was extremely well known. The marginalization, dehumanization and eventual persecution of Jews in Germany was completely transparent to the US government at the time (and the people, obviously). The Kristallnacht, the night when Germans vandalized Jewish owned storefronts was fully reported and again, captured bold headlines. In fact, Hitler explicitly tried to encourage western governments to "take the Jews" off his hands. This too was fully reported. Failing to achieve an exodus from Germany, he began the process of ghettoization, which in turn led to concentration camps and, eventually, in 1942 (by which time the US was in the war) the "Final Solution" or extermination.

In no way is this meant, by the way, to cast responsibility away from Hitler and to those nations who failed to take in Jews in large numbers. While that was tragic, it is especially so in retrospect with the benefit of hindsight. To me, the larger message relates to a certain denial to which we naturally fall prey. Nobody, or very few anyway, would have predicted the systematic extermination of the Jews under German Nazi auspices. Not even with ghastly headlines making it clear Hitler's bigotry, hatred and antipathy would anybody have predicted the construction of human extermination facilities. It is incomprehensible - as it was to American troops entering Dachau and Bergen-Belsin, for instance. There is an exceptional newsreel of General Eisenhower describing how he and the American General staff visited the camps personally because they "wanted to bear witness to the inhumanity of the genocide in the event people in the future deny that it happened." Ike understood implicitly the "unbelievability" of the genocide and the potential for future denial. On a smaller scale, before 9/11, the notion of flying 767s into skyscrapers to kill mass numbers of civilians was inconceivable. Until it happens, it is unfathomable. And even then...

And so now, here we find ourselves with the President of Iran - who both denies the Holocaust, on the one hand, and seeks to repeat it, on the other. What else can we make of his threat to "wipe Israel off the map?"

I would encourage you all to visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. It offers shocking instruction on the all-to-human capacity for cruelty and inhumanity. And sadly, its lessons continue to have application today.


By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Tue Oct 12, 02:34:00 PM:

Never been to the one in D.C., but I went to the one in Jerusalem. I'm a bit of a stoneheart and rarely shed tears, but seeing a piece of painted 'memorial' art (referring to a Holocaust phenomenon, where many survivors who were not artists felt compelled to put their memories to canvas and sculpture) recalling the murder of her newborn child by SS guards... well...

Interesting fact: IDF soldiers visit the museum as part of their training. To let them know the consequences of failure, I guess.  

By Anonymous Ignoramus, at Tue Oct 12, 02:51:00 PM:

Further to CP's point that the World should have known what Hitler was up to:

Hitler wrote Mein Kampf in 1925-1926. Right off, he made a lot of money from royalties which supported his political activities. So it was in wide circulation well before Hitler came to power.
It's not that much of a leap to see the "Final Solution" in what Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, especially in Volume 1: Section XI: Nation and Race It's here Chilling stuff, actually.

Stalin also should have paid more attention. Hitler was pretty clear in Mein Kampf on his intent to destroy the Soviet Union and to seize Russian land to enable German expansion.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Oct 12, 02:51:00 PM:

Does anyone know: Has the President ever visited?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Oct 12, 02:56:00 PM:

"Interesting fact: IDF soldiers visit the museum as part of their training. To let them know the consequences of failure, I guess."

More to let them know the importance of serving in the first place.

(And to get a day off from basic.)  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Tue Oct 12, 03:09:00 PM:

Obama has visited Buchenwald, but I could not on a quick Google search find a visit to the museum.  

By Blogger pam, at Tue Oct 12, 07:41:00 PM:

Obama went to Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem, in July 0f 2008--also a Google search.

Very nicely written, Cardinalpark.  

By Anonymous Steve Skubinna, at Tue Oct 12, 10:02:00 PM:

Many reasonable, civilized people need desperately to believe that "everybody's the same" the world over or that it's "only the governments causing all the trouble." My hunch is that this is more likely found on the left side of the political spectrum.

Regardless, it is exemplified by those in the UK who sincerely believed that Mr. Hitler was a reasonable man, and that the only threat to the peace came from Churchill. Chamberlain's fatuous remark that he could do business with Hitler is chilling in retrospect.

Chamberlain's political heirs, of course, are those today who dismiss Iranian rhetoric as posturing, or who ignore Palestinian calls for Israel's destruction, or who insist that the term "jihad" does not mean holy war but is instead descriptive of personal striving.

For that matter, we have noted deep thinker Micheal Moore puzzled over why the 9/11 attacks happened to states that did not vote for Bush - such a staggering degree of obliviousness is hard to accept at face value, yet there are far too many who refuse to believe that their adversaries are saying what they mean, of in fact that they are actually doing what they boast of on YouTube.

Perhaps it's related to Spender Ackerman - Deadliest Man Alive! - and his fascination with hurling others through plate glass windows. There's an implicit nudge-nudge wink-wink that tells us he's only kidding, no "reasonable" person would do something like that. All he really needs is to half jokingly make the threat, and we, cowed, fall into a shamed silence. In Ackerman's universe there are no persons who would employ violence against another, so it's all one big inside joke.  

By Blogger Mac from Michigan, at Wed Oct 13, 10:16:00 AM:

Good writing, no excellent writing.

Ackerman would (assuming, perhaps a lot...) probably change his opinion regarding violence if he spent a year or so working in a law enforcement agency, or district attorney's office.

Some people just need to be locked up...forever.  

By Anonymous sirius, at Wed Oct 13, 07:45:00 PM:

I suspect Chamberlain's clueless-ness stemmed from an innate naivety; I've often surmised Churchill was able early on to read Hitler correctly because he did not labour under the delusion that, at bottom, all people are basically good.

Naivety or delusion seems all that can account for the fact that the wider world did not open itself to the Jews at a time when they were increasingly unwelcome in Germany. Hitler concluded the rest of the world didn't want them either, which only emboldened him--and serves as a lesson about the need to disabuse such people of their loathsome ideas or, at minimum, not reinforcing them.

I still can't get my mind around the voyage of the St. Louis, and the fact that even the U.S. denied its doomed passengers refuge.

(verification word: fight)  

By Blogger Charles, at Thu Oct 14, 06:07:00 PM:

Captured German war records prove that millions of innocent Jews (and tens of thousands of others) were systematically exterminated by Nazi Germany - mostly in gas chambers. These facts have been proven repeatedly through countless thesis and dissertation research papers. Virtually every PhD in the world will stake their career on these known Holocaust FACTS. Despite this knowledge, Holocaust deniers ply their mendacious poison everywhere, especially with young people on the Internet. The deniers have only one agenda - to distort the truth in a way that promotes antagonism against the object of their hatred (Jews), or to deny the culpability of their ancestors and heroes.

Museums and mandatory public education are appropriate tools to dispel bigotry, especially racial and ethnic hatred. Books and films can also establish the veracity of genocides, such as recent Holocaust films. They help to tell the true story of the perpetrators of genocide; and they reveal the abject terror, humiliation and degradation resulting from such blind loathing and prejudice. We must disclose the cruelty and horror of genocide to combat the deniers’ virulent and inaccurate historical revision. By doing this, we protect vulnerable future generations from making the same mistakes.

Whenever we stand up to those who deny or minimize genocide we send a critical message to the world. As we continue to live in an age of genocide and ethnic cleansing, we must repel the broken ethics of our ancestors, or risk a dreadful repeat of past transgressions. A world that continues to allow genocide requires ethical remediation. We must show the world that religious, racial, ethnic and gender persecution is wrong; and that tolerance is our progeny's only hope. Only through such efforts can we reveal the true horror of genocide and promote the triumphant spirit of humankind.

Charles Weinblatt
Author, Jacob’s Courage

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Oct 14, 07:01:00 PM:

More than historical papers -- I have an uncle through marriage who served in Patton's Third Army. They liberated Buchenwald. It made an impression on Mickey, and he told us of it. Patton, God love him, forced the locals to take a tour.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Oct 18, 10:40:00 AM:

On my visit to the Holocaust Museum in DC I was OK until I got to the display of thousands of shoes belonging to the victims. For some reason the sight of all those shoes affected me more so than the photos of the horrors. Shoes are so personal, I still tear-up remembering.  

Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?