Washington, D.C. — enough time, I hope, to allow me to publish a piece
which I, by coincidence, had hoped to write that very day. (Needless to
say, murderers like James van Brunn give me reason to hope that my
disbelief in Hell in misguided.)
Not long ago, I proofread a
student’s essay on the museum, an essay which raised some interesting
points I had never before considered. That essay informs this post.
1978, Jimmy Carter set up a commission to direct the creation of a
Holocaust Museum on the Washington Mall. The United States Holocaust
Memorial Museum opened in 1993.
I certainly think that Holocaust museums should exist in a wide variety of locales. But why place one on the Mall, home to the American History Museum, the National Air and Space Museum and so many patriotic memorials?
The Nazi genocide occurred in Europe. The United States was neither victim nor victimizer during that tragedy.
who visit the Holocaust Museum probably come away thinking: "Thank God
we live in a democracy; such things can’t happen here." But such things
did happen here.
time of Carter’s proposal, the Mall did not have a museum dedicated to
conveying the true scope and nature of slavery. Neither was there an
institution on the Mall preserving the memory of the genocide of this
land’s original inhabitants. Was it not a strange decision to highlight
Germany’s shame and not our own?
To this day, the Mall does not
have a museum which tells the story of slavery the way the Holocaust
Museum tells the story of Europe’s murderous racism. In fact, I don’t
believe that such a museum exists anywhere. A National Museum of
African American History and Culture is in the planning stages, but it
will not focus on this nation’s original sin.
NMAI is one of the most beautiful buildings ever constructed in this
country, with graceful, sinuous lines that evoke the contours of
rolling hills and curving rivers. By contrast, the Holocaust Museum is
deliberately forbidding, unfriendly, unlovely; it is a fortress.
Within, the intentionally ugly exhibits are meant to replicate the
experience of being trapped in a ghetto and sent to a concentration
The NMAI does not immerse the visitor in horror. Far from
it: The emphasis is on celebrating Native cultures and artifacts. A
foreigner entering this building might come away with the impression
that Indians have usually received fair treatment from whites.
Two current exhibits: More……………………