So why is it so difficult to post every day (or almost every day)? The posts don’t have to be long or complicated…..but wouldn’t it be helpful to the world at large if I set down at least something I saw or did or heard or thought?
Like today, I visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Why today of all days? Because I was part of a group who had been told that they would have a guide who would take us through the exhibits and tell us some things we might otherwise not know. Sounded good. But, in fact, our guide was apparently not well versed in the Holocaust, was unable to communicate to our large group of 20 (he said he could), and had little sense of time (our 90 minute event was over when we were less than half way through the museum – he had assumed we would go through it all).
OK, the end of my complaint – and it’s not a big complaint, because I really didn’t need a guide, and was glad enough to be able to wander through the museum, although I can’t say that I learned anything new. After all, I have spent a lot of time reading and hearing about the Holocaust. But the photographic exhibits are extensive and interesting, and the videos worth a trip just to watch them. As you probably know, this is a large museum, and I think does a good job telling half the story.
What do I mean by that? In my humble opinion, as they say, the museum does a great job telling what happened during the Holocaust – and this is its stated mission. It’s a museum to tell you what happened in Europe from the time Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany in 1933 until the Germans unconditionally surrendered 12 years later. And it shows what happened in significant detail – probably much more than anyone unfamiliar with the story could absorb in a single visit.
So what is missing? I don’t think that the museum does a good job of putting the Holocaust, or Hitler himself, in context. Why did he gain power in Germany in 1933? What was the attitude of Europe towards the Jews before 1933, and how did this play into Hitler’s program? And so forth. Of course, this may be too much to expect. The museum has too much in it already to be comprehended – more would perhaps would confusing these too much. And, while the Holocaust museum shows “facts”, shows “what happened”, a contextual addition would add “opinion”, and perhaps politically this would be impossible.
So, perhaps visitors to the museum will get more out of the museum if they spend a little time looking at the history of the first part of the 20th century in Europe, so that they can put the rise of Hitler into a larger picture. Whether the majority of them do so, especially the large number of school groups that come through the museum, I don’t know.
I’ve been in a fair number of Holocaust museums, in this country, in Europe, and in Israel. With all of the photographic evidence you find in these museums (as well as in light of all of the memoirs that have been written), it’s hard to believe that Holocaust deniers believe what they spout, at least that those who have looked into the subject at all. But maybe I am wrong.
The same is true regarding countries, like Poland, which have passed legislation that prohibits or controls the public conclusions that can be reached about the Holocaust. the Poles, as you have read, have recently adopted legislation that makes it illegal to state that the Polish state or the Polish people participated in the Holocaust. The idea is that the Holocaust was a German escapade, and can’t be blamed on the Poles. Now, I am not an expert on this law, but it is clever. For example, how could the Polish state be involved in the Holocaust when, after the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, the Polish state ceased to exist. And how could the Polish people been involved, if there was no Polish state – the people are the state, after all. And it is true that the law doesn’t make it illegal to conclude that a particular Pole or two did assist the Germans.
But, boy…..this is really threading a very small needle, and it will have an effect not only on historical research, but on what the next generation of Poles learn.
This law has created a lot of controversy. It has been all over the media. What’s surprising is that it is not the first law like this, and the other laws have not received this attention. Laws in the Ukraine, and Lithuania and Latvia and Croatia and others exist, some I believe even harsher than the Polish law. Of course, Polish had more Jewish victims than any other country by a large amount – so it’s not surprising that so many survivors and their families focus on Poland. Yet, Poland also had the largest number of rescuers (according to Yad Vashem) and there were other places (think Ukraine, Croatia and Lithuania, to name a few) where the local populace seems to have been more actively involved in atrocities. So the Poles understandably feel picked on. But…..too bad. This does not excuse the legislation.
OK, that’s my post for today, I guess. If I were going to add something, it would be to suggest that everyone read the article in this morning’s New York Times on the increasing economic and social problems in Gaza. What it shows is that it isn’t just Israel that is making life in Gaza so tough. The Egyptians, (by closing the Gaza border) the other Arab nations (by doing nothing), and even the Palestinian Authority (by stopping to pay government worker salaries among other things) are all involved in tightening the screws to put additional pressure on Hamas. So sad for the 2 million who live in Gaza, especially those innocent ones who have to pay the price of their government’s policies.