Friday, May 6, 2005

Lipstadt Cited in Article on Holocaust Museums

Professor Lipstadt was cited in a Jerusalem Post article on Holocaust museums. Here are some excerpts:


The Holocaust is still being remembered – just not the way it used to be.

Sixty years after its end, an increasing number of cities have built architectural testimony to the Holocaust. Twenty-six cities in the United States and Canada now have Holocaust museums, and others have built monuments or established research foundations or educational centers.

Holocaust museums and memorials have shifted the nature of remembrance, moving away from the emphasis on testimony and defiance toward the teaching of tolerance and understanding, according to several Holocaust experts.

"Holocaust memorials always reflect their time. Every generation has to find its own reason for memorializing," says James Young, a professor at the University of Massachusetts and the author of The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning. Older museums marking the Holocaust, such as the original Yad Vashem, built in 1957, focused on telling the survivors' stories and conveying a "sense of hope and gratitude," Young says.

Newer memorials, such as the US Holocaust Museum in Washington, which opened in 1993, often make a self-conscious attempt to universalize messages in an attempt to make them accessible to more people, he adds.

According to Michael Berenbaum, a Holocaust scholar and a consultant on the development of the Washington museum, visitors to the new museums, built roughly during the last decade, learn universal moral imperatives, such as "the importance of military ethics and of recognizing the humanity of the enemy even while undertaking action against them."

Broadening the message of the Holocaust in memorials to include the persecution of gays and lesbians during World War II or including other genocides raises some controversy.

Berenbaum worries that moving the focus away from the specific Jewish nature of the tragedy borders on "soft-core denial, by trying to call other" mass murders "Holocaust-like."


All museums want to say the Holocaust "is a terrible thing," says Deborah Lipstadt, professor of modern Jewish and Holocaust studies at Emory University and author of the recently published book History On Trial: My Day in Court With David Irving. If we know about it, "we have a better chance of preventing this from happening again. We are ensuring the future," she says.


The architecture of museums and memorials has changed to accompany contemporary attitudes.

Berenbaum says that the original Yad Vashem provided the first "model of an integrated institution; a museum that tells the story of the Holocaust, a research institution and archive, and an educational institution that teaches teachers and students the history of the Holocaust, its meaning and application to the new generation." When it came to the Washington museum, planners tried take a slightly different tack.

"There are corners that don't quite meet – the building is not supposed to reassure you," Young says. "It is constructed from brick and iron, a material reference to the Holocaust."

Lipstadt is pleased by the diversity of the visitors to the Washington museum, which she helped plan.

"I sit in the lobby and watch America pass by me," she says. "Every part of the country comes – the vast majority of visitors are non-Jewish."

She hopes this means that more people are getting an important message. "While it's important to know what happened, building an identity as victims is not who Jews are. A whole world of Jewish identity is lost: We should teach people to be Jews in spite of the Holocaust, not because of it. We have to teach them the good stuff, too."

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