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Whose Holocaust Museum?
05/02/11
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The controversy that often surrounds a Holocaust museum’s decision to include the mass murder of other groups — like the Armenian Genocide in Turkey a century ago, or the 1994 killings in Rwanda — is expanding beyond a small group of scholars to the wider public.

In a series of recent articles, Edward Rothstein, critic-at-large at The New York Times, asks if the Shoah is a uniquely Jewish tragedy, if a Holocaust museum should broaden beyond its immediate subject, if there are universal lessons to be learned from the Jewish experience at the hands of the Third Reich.

His answers: the Holocaust should be treated as uniquely Jewish, and institutions dilute their message when they present other genocides as comparable. “It is as if familiarity is breeding analogy … [some Holocaust museums] began to see the Holocaust as an extreme manifestation of a refusal to care about injustice or the fate of one’s neighbor,” he wrote.

(The expansion of the Holocaust’s message is worldwide: the Holocaust Centre in Cape Town, South Africa, introduces a parallel track about apartheid, and a Holocaust museum that is to open this year in Johannesburg will feature references to the genocide in Rwanda.)

“This is always one of the major tensions” among Holocaust scholars, Edward Linenthal, author of “Preserving Memory: The Struggle to Create America’s Holocaust Museum” (Viking, 1995), says in an e-mail interview. “The relationship between historic specificity and wider contexts was always on the minds of those tasked with the creation of the [U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum].”

Many leaders of the Holocaust remembrance movement take issue with Rothstein’s conclusions, but credit him with sparking a national dialogue on the subject.

Newspapers and online forums carried excerpts from his articles the last few weeks, and David Marwell, director of the Museum of Jewish Heritage–A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, in Battery Park City, issued a statement that his institution’s balanced approach to Holocaust memory “presents this difficult history in a way that both respects its unique character and distills important lessons for our visitors.”

While Rothstein’s critique is “worthy of consideration,” he fails to understand that the Holocaust’s legacy led to a universal condemnation of genocide, says Michael Berenbaum, former director of the Holocaust Research Institute at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. “The transition was organic.”

“People are discussing this,” debating the universalistic and particularistic aspects of the Holocaust, says Arthur Flug, executive director of the Holocaust Resource Center at Queensborough Community College in Bayside. “He’s opened up the topic for discussion.”

In “Making the Holocaust the Lessons on All Evils,” an April 29 essay that focuses on Los Angeles’ Museum of Tolerance, Rothstein implies that Queensborough’s “modest” center is guilty of universalizing the Shoah, alluding to the center’s exhibitions and hate crimes curriculum that teach students “options” when confronted with bias.

But Flug says that an effective museum exhibit “is more than a history lesson.”

Otherwise, he adds, “it becomes static. We are required as educators to teach some course of action.”

 

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10/27/2016 - 19:57
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My fear is that after the death of the final Holocaust survivor and eventually the death of the children of Holocaust survivors, history will be re-written and the Holocaust will no longer be a Jewish issue but rather a universal one. The number will no longer be The 6 million Jews but rather or 50 million casualties of war. Many still persist in saying there were six million Jews and 5 million non- Jews who were exterminated by the Nazis. We all should mourn and honor those who fought and died, Jew and non-Jew alike. However, let us never forget and always remember that it was the Jews who were the primary target of Hitler and the Nazi regime. The historian Yehudah Bauer wrote;' Simon Wiesenthal, as he admitted to me in private,( invented the figure six million Jews and five million non-Jews) inorder to create sympathy for the Jews- in order to make the non-Jews feel they are part of us.'
I was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany of Polish parents. I came to America as a refugee. I pray that the Holocaust and the memory of those who perished will be kept alive by our grandchildren and future generations. LET US NOT DILUTE THE MEMORY OF THE HOLOCAUST BY STRESSING HOLOCAUST AND GENOCIDE. WHILE IT IS IMPORTANT TO STRESS THAT WE SHOULD NEVER BE INNOCENT BYSTANDERS WHILE OTHERS ARE MUREREDED OR DISRCRIMINATED AGAINST, WE ALSO SHOULD NEVER DILUTE THE SINGULAR SIGNIFICANCE OF THE HOLOCAUST. I FEAR THAT 50 YEARS FROM NOW THE HOLOCAUST WILL BE FORGOTTEN AND BECOME ONLY A DATE IN HISTORY TOGETHER WITH OTHER GENOCIDES. I WILL DO ALL I CAN NOW. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

Like Rabbi Rosenberg, I am also second generation, and worry that the Holocaust will not be remembered by greatgrandchildren's generation. Even within the American Jewish community there is a lack of awareness and there is very little emotional connection, true connection, with what happened to the 6 million in Eastern Europe and the gilded insular lives that many live in this country. Already one feels my peers who are in their forties, articulate that it was a long time ago, so long ago. Well, it was not that long ago. My mother who survived Auschwitz is still alive. Her memory is still viable. Her testimony is still relevant and important. And she continues to give of herself to make sure that our youth learn and in turn never forget. I will do my best to carry on and make sure that the life of my lost family is remembered, that the individuals are commemorated appropriately, and that no one forgets that just over 60 years ago human beings turned into animals and murdered other human beings in ways that we would not murder our pets. My greatgrandmother was mawled to death by german shephards; by greatgrandfather and several aunts were murdered at Belsic by gas and Plashov by starvation and my mothers' immediate family all ended up at Auschwitz with my mother barely alive the only survivor in her family in January 1945. I know my mother. I know what she accomplished in spite of the Holocaust. I know that the loss to the world community of just her extended was great. The Holocaust was a uniquely Jewish tragedy and we should not care about being politically correct. That is our downfall. No one cares about us. That is the lesson. When things get bad the Jews become the scapegoat. We must focus on survival building bridges where we can with other communities but focus on strengthening our community through the creation of Jewish liturgy that focuses on the Holocaust and what happened and the lessons learned. We must incorporate rituals into the daily religion that link our lives to what was lost to bolster our identities and our connection with Israel. We need to remember the Holocaust--the Jews need to remember the Holocaust, feel it, embrace it, strengthen their resolve around it, and become better and stronger and more strategic thinkers as a result of the evil that occurred.

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