The Twentieth Century was a time of war and carnage that had spread throughout the world. Some wars only caused a few thousand deaths, but in others, millions died. There was armed conflict somewhere on the Earth each year of that century. That might be a typical century (for instance, the 13th Century was rife with conflict), but the conflict known as World War II (which ended 70 years ago this year) alone killed about 50,000,000 people, the current population of the entire US Pacific coast today.
One country, National Socialist Germany, killed between 15 and 20 million people in an attempt to rid Europe of people considered “non-Aryan”—most of whom were Jews. While fighting the war, they developed an entire infrastructure dedicated to the forced removal and execution of people its leaders deemed undesirable. Anti-Semitism was common in the western world before the war, so as Germany conquered other countries, some partisans actually assisted, and other people either did not know what was going on around them, or turned a blind eye toward the atrocities.
The extent of the horrors shocked the victorious Allies. There were international trials such as the Nurnberg Trials that prosecuted war criminals for “crimes against humanity.” Private activists such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Simon Wiesenthal also took an active part in education the whole world about the recently-committed atrocies and, in the case of Mr. Wiesenthal, hunting down and bringing to trial individuals responsible for those atrocities.
In 1993, he helped found the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, California as part of the drive to educate the general public about the atrocities during World War II. The Center “ is a global human rights organization researching the Holocaust and hate in a historic and contemporary context. …” The United Nations, UNESCO, Council of Europe, the Organisation of American States, and others recognize the Centre as a Non-government Organisation (NGO). The Centre maintains offices in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Chicago, Toronto, Paris, Buenos Aires, and Jerusalem. The Wiesenthal Center operates the Museum of Tolerance as an educational resource using workshops to tell the story of the Holocaust and use that story to teach to understand their own prejudices, listen to one another, and seek commonality between each other. Since its opening, five million people have been taught within its walls, with a quarter million visitors annually including a group from the San Juan Unified School District in February. It uses the Holocaust as a springboard to study current examples of how bigotry affects both victim and perpetrators. In addition to Los Angeles, there are Museums of Tolerance in New York and Jerusalem.
The United States Holocaust Museum (USHM) is a similar but unrelated facility located near the Watergate Hotel in Washington DC. This museum “A living memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity,” and financed by the U.S. government unlike the Museums of Tolerance. The museum works with military, law enforcement, diplomacy, medicine, and education leaders to attempt to prevent genocide.
There are Holocaust museums in twenty countries including Candada, Japan, Russia, Germany, Slovokia, the Netherlands, Poland, and South Africa, but the greatest number of such museums are in the United States. There are 22 in the United States not including the Musems of Tolerance. All are concerned about the danger of younger generations not being able to meet with Holocaust survivors as the latter die off. The risk is that these effects will cause an increase in antisemetism and holocaust denial. The USMH and others have authored smart phone apps to increase access and permit photography.
Solomon, an ancient Jewish king observed that, “There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.” (Ecclesiastes 1:11). Elie Wiesel stated that, “To forget a Holocaust is to kill twice;” so the various museums are working to “never forget” by teaching tolerance.