February 13, 2013
Holocaust’s enduring lessons
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) will be transplanted, at least in part, from Washington, D.C.’s National Mall to Los Angeles on Feb. 17.
In a daylong commemoration and celebration at the Skirball Cultural Center, marking the run-up to the museum’s 20th anniversary in late April, visitors can participate in interactive workshops and panel discussions, watch rare historical film footage, and conduct research on survivors and their families.
In addition, an hour-long tribute ceremony will honor Southern California’s Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans, followed by a fundraising dinner.
“Twenty years after the founding of the museum, the timeless lessons of the Holocaust — the fragility of democracy, the nature of hate and the consequences of indifference — are more relevant than ever,” said USHMM director Sara J. Bloomfield.
In a phone interview, Bloomfield expanded on the theme, noting that the Holocaust teaches us that “the unthinkable is always thinkable.
“Almost 70 years after the Holocaust, we are still asking how this could happen and in one of the most educated and sophisticated countries in the world. Is hatred of ‘the other’ an unchangeable part of human nature?”
What we do know, she added, is that Holocaust denial is continuing, that the generation of survivors and war veterans is dying, and that freedom can never be taken for granted.
Bloomfield became the USHMM director in 1991, even while it was still in the process of creation, and she cited some of its accomplishments.
Last year, the museum hosted 1.7 million visitors, part of 35 million visitors since its opening. About one-third of all visitors are school children, 12 percent hail from foreign countries, and an astonishing 90 percent are non-Jews.
In 2011, the museum’s budget was $81.2 million, of which $51 million was the responsibility of the federal government, and about $31 million was raised through private donations.
USHMM’s Internet outreach is even larger, clicking in 38 million visitors from more than 100 countries in 2010, including half a million from countries with Muslim majorities. To accommodate such a large number of interested foreigners, the museum’s Web site offers information in 13 languages, including Arabic, Farsi and Chinese.
One of the museum’s most ardent Los Angeles supporters is Deborah Oppenheimer, executive vice president of NBC Universal International Television Production.
While working as a television producer at Warner Bros. in 2000, Oppenheimer won an Academy Award for producing “Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport.”
The children’s transport brought about 10,000 Jewish children between the ages of 2 and 17 from Nazi-dominated Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia to safety in Great Britain, but on condition that they leave behind their parents.
Oppenheimer’s mother was on one such transport in 1938 and, like 90 percent of her fellow evacuees, never saw her parents again.
When Oppenheimer was researching material for her Kindertransport documentary, she turned to the Holocaust museum for help. “I was tremendously impressed by the museum staff, the extreme care it took in protecting, handling and archiving the material, much of it entrusted by survivors.”
For her film, Oppenheimer was especially interested to show examples of the few items the children had been allowed to take along as links to their past and their parents. Included were a pocket watch given as a bar mitzvah present; a sweater crocheted by a grandmother; and, from Oppenheimer’s mother, a pen-and-pencil set.
Los Angeles is the second stop in the museum’s tour of four cities with large numbers of survivors; the tour started in December in Boca Raton, Fla., and, after Los Angeles, continues to New York and Chicago.
The Feb. 17 panel discussion and workshops at the Skirball will probe such questions as, “Who was responsible for the Holocaust?” “What if Hitler had access to the Internet?” and “Can we make ‘Never Again’ more than a promise?”
Panelists will include Bloomfield, radio host Warren Olney, editor Peter Hayes, director Dan Schnur of the USC Unruh Institute of Politics, screenwriter-producer Eli Attie and author Philip Zimbardo.
USHMM’s 20th anniversary will climax April 28-29 with a national tribute to survivors and veterans at the museum, headed by Elie Wiesel, the museum’s founding chairman.
Admission to the Feb. 17 events at the Skirball is free, except for the tribute dinner, but advance registration is required.
To register, call (866) 998-7466 or go to ushmm.org/neveragain. That Web site provides information on all 20th anniversary activities and suggested actions by individuals to preserve the memory of the Holocaust.