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The Need for Holocaust Museums

Wednesday, 23 March 2005 12:00 AM

The question that continues to haunt Jews throughout the world is, why didn't the United States and British air forces bomb the concentration camps or the railways leading to the camps in order to halt the mass murder being committed against the Jews? We now know that the Allied governments were aware that those death camps were carrying out Hitler's "Final Solution."

The attempt to defend the decision on the basis that a diversion of resources would have hindered the prosecution of the war is, in my view, totally unacceptable.

Many cities and countries around the world have created or are in the process of building museums dedicated to keeping alive the memory of the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators.

The original Yad Vashem museum built in Jerusalem 50 years ago provided documentation, research and educational facilities. The new museum, dedicated last week, tells "the story of the Shoah (Holocaust) from the personal Jewish point of view" in underground galleries built into a mountain overlooking Jerusalem. Most of the photographs displayed were taken by the German soldiers and guards in the ghettos and camps and sent back to their relatives.

In the records of Yad Vashem can now be found the individual histories of more than 3 million Jews. The search goes on with respect to the personal histories of the 3 million other victims. Visitors to the museum can search the Central Database of Shoah Victims names. After viewing the exhibits, the visitor finds himself/herself on top of the mountain with a panoramic view of Jerusalem in the valley below.

Having just passed through a graphic depiction of the near extermination of European Jewry to suddenly see the city of Jerusalem is breathtaking and incredibly moving. The brilliant architect Moshe Safdie planned it that way.

My presence at the dedication of the new Yad Vashem museum came about as a result of President Bush's appointing Mayor Bloomberg to be chairman of the U.S. delegation and the mayor's asking me to attend. I was not there in an official capacity, but as an American Jew who is devoted to the security of Israel.

Also in attendance were presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers and other government representatives of some forty countries. For most, it was the first time those nations publicly admitted that their citizens had assisted the Nazis in their war against the Jews and the effort to murder all Jews.

In his remarks to those present, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon caught the feelings of those exiting the museum when he said:

"When you leave this museum, you see the sky of Jerusalem. I know how a Jew feels when he emerges from these depths and breathes the air of Jerusalem. He feels at home. He feels protected. He feels the terrible difference between living in one's own country, in one's homeland, in a country which can provide protection, and standing alone, utterly defenseless, confronting a beast in human form. He knows Israel is the only place in the world where Jews have the right to defend themselves, and that proves the Jewish people will never know another Holocaust."

The statement of the prime minister of Belgium, Guy Verhofstadt, conveying the personal impact upon him of the Holocaust brought me to tears. He said:

"Whenever I think of the Holocuast, I see that same photograph in my mind's eye. A young boy in Auschwitz. Wearing short trousers and a cap on his head. His hands up. There is nobody around him. He is standing alone, totally alone, staring into the barrel of a gun. His picture is burnt into my brain.

"I feel as if that young boy is looking at me with uncomprehending eyes. He asks me: ‘What is going on? Where are my parents, my brothers, my sisters? How can people do such things? What did I do wrong?'

"These are questions I cannot answer. Something that cannot be comprehended. It looks most like a disease. A mental disease that rots away conscience. The disease of racism, of anti-Semitism, of xenophobia. The boy seems to be asking me if I can't quickly cure this disease. And ensure that nobody in the world ever points a gun at him, at children, again.

"We are unable to give any assurance. But I promise him that as long as I live I will do all I can to ensure that it never happens again. ... I will take my children to Auschwitz, to Yad Vashem, to other Holocaust museums to let them look into those same uncomprehending eyes, delivering one single message: 'In the name of tolerance we will never again tolerate the intolerant.'"

The greatest danger to the memory of the victims and the small number of those who risked their lives to help save the victims is that the Holocaust will become just another historical event. We are reaching the point in human experience when, as one scholar at Yad Vashem put it, "memory becomes history." Those who lived through the experience are dying off. Each year for more than 25 years, when I have attended the commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the line of women survivors marching down the aisles at Temple Emanuel to light candles is shorter.

Holocaust museums in every city of the world are a good idea so that future generations can learn about the Holocaust and commit themselves to the idea that nothing of the sort should ever be allowed to happen again. New York City's Holocaust museum, the Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, is in Battery Park City facing the Statue of Liberty.


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The question that continues to haunt Jews throughout the world is, why didn't the United States and British air forces bomb the concentration camps or the railways leading to the camps in order to halt the mass murder being committed against the Jews?We now know that the...
Wednesday, 23 March 2005 12:00 AM
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