Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hell on Earth

At this point in my life, I think I've been to three Holocaust Museums. The one in Israel, Yad Vashem, the new one in Berlin and the one in Washington.
It is interesting to think about the contrasts between them. Yad Vashem I visited like 20 years ago and since it was the first one, I think it is still the one that made the biggest impression on me. The fact that it is in Jerusalem, in Israel, adds to how powerful the experience of visiting it is. After all, the fact that it is there is a testament to the failure of the Nazis to rid the world of us.
The very new one in Berlin is fascinating because of the psychology of it. First of all, it is underground, below the monument to the 6 million Jews murdered by the nazis. (Which took the Germans until like two years ago to finally commit to, after a lot of internal kvetching). Compared to the one in Israel and the one in Washington, it really is rather discreet in regards to the photographic material it exhibits. The unbelievable, bestial, inhumane cruelty the Nazis proudly documented themselves is not so in abundance. What's in abundance are exhaustive, sober explanations of how the Nazis came to power and then, and I guess fittingly, discreet, exhibits about the number of Jews murdered and the fates of 10 Jewish families.
I can understand why the Germans are so demure. When you see the footage, not only of what the liberating armies found as they arrived to the concentration camps, but the Nazi footage of medical experiments and pretty much everything they filmed, when you see a room full of human hair, I don't know how you would be able to live with yourself as a country. They should have followed their beloved leaders and committed seppukku en masse.
The Washington museum does a great job of explaining everything. Not only the fate of the Jews, but also what the Nazis did to everybody else, which was plenty. Surprisingly, and correctly, the museum does not shy away from talking about the very remiss attitude of the United States towards the atrocities: the refusal to bomb Auschwitz, the refusal to accept refugees, etc. I also learned that, before the Nazis, the US had the largest enforced sterilization program in the world.
Just looking at images of the Nuremberg rallies of compliant, hysterical masses, is enough to make your hair stand on end. For all those people who complain that we Jews are obsessed with the Holocaust, I can't think of a better reminder, not for our own suffering, but for the need to always protect individual liberties and to raise awareness that the most dangerous threat to human dignity and human life is their erosion.

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