In June, and for the 2nd year in a row in Washington D.C., 100 individuals mostly from the Chicago area, attended a behind-the-scenes visit of the Museum’s newest exhibition, Americans and the Holocaust. Discussions were held with Museum experts on current-day genocide, Holocaust denial and the rise of anti-Semitism throughout the world including here in the United States.
The day concluded with a participatory ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance, at which I had the honor of officiating.
We were also privileged to participate in a private tour of the Museum’s Collections and Conservation and Research Center during which we witnessed artifacts from the Holocaust. No facility like this exists anywhere in the world. This is a wonderfully significant trip and we plan to participate however often the Museum offers it.
There is no question that anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry are on the rise throughout the world. As Jews, and as human beings, we allow our history to move through us accompanying us all the days of our lives. This helps to create an intelligent sensitivity and ability to perceive discrimination and prejudice in all its possible forms however disguised by fear, semantics and demagoguery they may be.
Once the seeds are planted and the fans are flamed, the only way to contain it all is through involvement and overt action, whether individually, communally and/or politically. In some measure, we all bear responsibility. If our duly elected representatives at any levels of government are not speaking out against hatred of the other, against any of us on the basis of our religion, skin color, national origin, gender, sexual preference, or are giving us mixed messages we should be asking them why — why are you not speaking out and opposing hatred consistently and completely.
I am always reminded of German Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemoller’s statement in response to the Holocaust:
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Permanent Exhibition
His words ring so alarmingly true today and remind each of us of our role in actively combatting all forms of prejudice and discrimination. Complicity only requires silence. Let us not be guilty of silence.
Opening Statement United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Service
Washington D.C., June, 2019
It is an incredible thing-after all we have already seen and experienced today with so much more to follow tomorrow, searing our hearts and souls, we still ask why. This is the question the Museum never lets go of. It will never stop asking why, even when facts, primary documentation such as we have just seen like photos, diaries, records, news reports, all the artifacts and eyewitness accounts -- still strain our understanding. On some levels, the Holocaust remains incomprehensible. We ask, how could people treat others so inhumanely, so violently? How could this be? Are people really like this? Just what are the limits to human brutality? Are there any? Redemptive visions are so much easier for us to tolerate because they soothe us and instill in us a sense of hope for the future. But, we are compelled to ask-could this happen again? Of course, there are genocides occurring in the world as we speak. And, as perplexing as it may seem to us, the seeds of Anti-Semitism are emerging again, not just on European soil and other parts of the world, but here as well.
We are a people who neither lives in the past nor only for the future. We live in the present with clear, open eyes, opened by a world capable of allowing the Shoah to happen. But, we do carry within us the fragments of our people’s past just as the Israelites in the wilderness carried within the Ark the smashed tablets along with the new ones.
Just so, we carry the memories of the victims of the Shoah with us, all the broken fragments of their interrupted lives, their past, their destroyed communities developed over millennia, an entire civilization, an entire murdered generation. What our enemies murdered, we keep alive, in our minds, our memories and in our memorial prayers. And, these fragments in part make us who we are, ever committed to live openly as Jews, to live for what they died for. We refuse to be intimidated; we refuse to be afraid. Out of the past, we have always rebuilt, out of the past, though the walls of Jerusalem have fallen many times, we have rebuilt a Jewish homeland and by doing so, we have been reborn.
This Museum reminds us to never forget, to teach us all what hatred of the other can lead to. We will never forget them, we will never allow their deaths to be in vain; we will always serve as witnesses against those who hate, we will always serve as witnesses to those who perished because of it, as we do so during these moments of memory, of memorial….
May their memories always be a blessing to us all.