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entries tagged with: Dachau


Constructing Holocaust memories: Where mind meets museum

Are you a Holocaust avoider? Not a denier, just someone like me who struggles with thinking about destruction, death, and genocide?

Do you sometimes catch yourself thinking, “Can’t I just think about this another time?”

Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, is observed on April 11; what should you do?

There are lectures, symposia, and memorial concerts. You could attend a service, read a book, or talk to a relative about someone who perished. You could visit a museum.

The new Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust is nearing the final stages of construction. I drive by the site every couple of weeks and wonder, how will a new museum help me and others to face the tragedy?

Seeking an answer, with Holocaust Remembrance Day approaching, I head out to the site for a walk-through with the museum’s executive director, Mark Rothman.

Putting on a hard hat, I wasn’t concerned by the unlikely potential of falling masonry but by falling spirits; Holocaust museums really depress me.

The trip would take me down ramps, past underground girders and large trapezoidal windows, through gray concrete-lined and shadowy spaces, and back into the light of day. I was hoping that a walk through a yet-to-be finished museum could somehow help me reconstruct my own perceptions of this imponderable period.

Located on a rise at the far end of Pan Pacific Park, across the street from the Grove and Farmer’s Market, two of L.A.’s biggest shopping and tourism draws, the museum promises to be a very public place. To magnify this sense of accessibility further, admission will be free.

The museum is located in the midst of a Jewish neighborhood that also has perhaps L.A.’s largest number of Holocaust survivors.

Its subtly curvilinear structure, built into a hillside, has a low profile and “green” roof. Rothman and I entered via a downward ramp into a large exhibit space that is mostly below ground level. Rothman says the exhibit space, arranged in a horseshoe, will dim gradually to represent the darkening series of events represented in the museum.

For a museum exhibit designer, presenting the Holocaust is a complicated task. The story urgently needs to be told, but how?

With fading memory but still with a desire to reconnect, the public wants documentation, the all-too-gruesome facts: How many, how, what was the timeline? Too much detail or too graphic and you are faced with the issue that has always thwarted me in these spaces: What draws you in is what pushes you away.

“You can’t get out of the context of the tragedy,” Rothman said later. “We need to be aware of our history, even if it’s dark and tragic.”

Walking though the not-yet-completed exhibit areas and listening to Rothman’s explanation of what was soon to fill them, I felt new connections unexpectedly begin to form: personal extensions of the exhibits that would soon fill the hall.

At what will be the “Rise of Nazism” exhibit, I recalled that when I was a child we never discussed the Holocaust much in my home. We did have show-and-tell though.

My father, a World War II Navy veteran, once showed me a war “souvenir” — a belt with a swastika on the buckle. He explained that he joined the Navy to kill Nazis. It wasn’t until much later, as a teenager, that I understood why.

The next gallery, now a blank concrete floor and wall, will hold an exhibit dedicated to the onset of mass extermination. Recently I had begun to read the book “The Holocaust Odyssey of Daniel Bennahmias, Sonderkommando,” a lesser-known Holocaust story about the destruction and survival of a Greek community of mainly Sephardic Jews, sent to me by my relative and the author, Rebecca Fromer.

Daniel and his family were sent to Auschwitz by train. Their trip won’t be forgotten; the museum will include a representation of a cattle car.

As we entered the gallery area slated for the labor, concentration camps, and death camps, I remembered my friend of blessed memory, Rose Baumgold, a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Forced into slave labor sewing German uniforms, she fought back when she could by sewing the seams so they would quickly pull apart.

Along the wall in an area that will be dedicated to the world response to the Holocaust, resistance, and rescue, I thought, “This is where Uncle Don will fit in.”

Donald Segel, my wife’s uncle, was a member of the Rainbow Division (42nd Division of the U.S. 7th Army) during World War II. A POW for much of the war, he later became a division historian. Over the years he has taken pride in explaining to many groups his division’s and the U.S. Army’s role in liberating Dachau.

Looking up, I saw the glass double doors that will lead outside to the green of the park and the granite triangular columns of the museum’s already existing Holocaust memorial. Light filtered through, lifting the bare concrete gloom, sharpening the shadows.

Even in an empty museum, images I had avoided for so long became clear.



Reality check: Konrad Adenauer Foundation brings Muslim leaders to Holocaust sites

Visiting Dachau last month are Dr. Norbert Wagner, Rabbi Jack Bemporad, Imam Syed Naqvi, Nasreen Bedat, Special Envoy Hannah S. Rosenthal, Sheik Yasir Qadhi, Imam Abdullah Antepli, Imam Suhaib Webb (behind Antepli), Dr. Syed Syeed, Imam Muhammad Maged, Imam Muzammil Siddiqi, Suhail A. Khan, and Prof. Marshall Breger. Photos Courtesy Center for Interreligious Understanding

Rabbi Jack Bemporad wants it known that the visit he organized of eight Muslim-American leaders to concentration camps was a historic success.

Bemporad, director of the Carlstadt-based Center for Interreligious Understanding, called the Aug. 7 to 11 trip to Auschwitz in Poland and Dachau in Germany “a breakthrough in many respects, because … we took imams like [Yasir] Qadhi, for example,” who 10 years ago called the Holocaust a hoax. (Bemporad led the trip, which was sponsored by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, with Prof. Marshall Breger of the Catholic University of America.)

“The problem is,” said Bemporad, an Englewood resident, that “many imams came out of Saudi Arabia and Egypt because that’s where they get their education. That’s very unfortunate. The education they get is in many ways based on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” he explained. “The single greatest instrument of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism in the world today, it gives the erroneous view that the Jews are a devilish group that wants to control the world by dominating the press, economies,” and so forth.

One reason that proven fraud is invoked, he said, “is to diminish the significance of the Holocaust. The whole point is to show that the Holocaust was an invention to take Israel and have a beachhead in the Middle East that should really be Muslim.

“The best way to convince people of a reality they are not sure of is to expose them to that reality in a way that is undeniable.”

Thus, he said, even “many who accepted the Holocaust never had a sense of the reality and the totality of it. As a result practically all of us were in tears or broke down” at the concentration camps.

“The main point,” said Bemporad, “is that … they are using this experience in their services and talking to their people — that’s talking about tens of thousands of people.”

Also, he said, “They want Jews to speak in mosques about this reality so they can unite with us to condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms.”

Meanwhile, a rumor swirled around the blogosphere, and was discussed at sites like Politico and Salon, that Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, had lobbied against the trip. That, together with the ADL’s recent opposition to the planned mosque at Ground Zero, fueled speculations that he, the defender of bias against Jews, was biased against Muslims.

But Foxman told The Jewish Standard on Tuesday that there had been “a lot of noise and not so much light…. Nobody bothers to check the facts anymore,” he complained. “All of a sudden you will read [an allegation] in God knows how many places as a fact.”

What he did, he told the Standard, was question the participation of Hannah Rosenthal, the State Department’s anti-Semitism envoy. He said he had “shared with her a concern” about the appropriateness of a government representative’s joining a private mission. “Unfortunately,” he said, “it didn’t stay there and took on a life of its own.”

He had “no problem with [the Muslim leaders] going” on the trip, he said, adding, “I welcome the fact that they returned with the statement that they did.”


Iman trip to Nazi camps spurs project to fight religious hate speech

Just weeks after returning from unprecedented investigation of Nazi-era death camps, American Jewish and Muslim interfaith activists have announced their intent to form a national organization aimed at combating religious hate speech in all of its forms.

During a Capitol Hill briefing on Sept. 22 — in which several D.C.-area Muslim leaders reported to lawmakers about the recent educational trip they took to Auschwitz and Dachau — the Muslim and Jewish activists vowed to join forces in an effort to battle anti-Semitic and Islamaphobic rhetoric that they say too often imbues contentious national political debates.

The yet-to-be-named project will “set up a structure that would give” moderate Muslim leaders “a megaphone” from which to denounce extremism, said Rabbi Jack Bemporad, director of the Carlstadt-based Center for Interreligious Understanding. A lead organizer of the group, he also helped plan the August trip to Auschwitz and Dachau.

The interfaith activists also will work to prevent the proliferation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-Semitic tract that is easily procured in the Muslim world and many Muslim American communities.

The group’s other core organizers — who also were present at the Capitol Hill briefing — include Marshall Breger, an Orthodox Jew who is a law professor at Catholic University in Washington; Sayyid Syeed, national director for the Islamic Society of North America’s Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances; and Mohamed Magid, imam and executive director of the ADAMS Center (All Dulles Area Muslim Society).

Members of the group were scheduled to gather in the District for their first formal meeting on Tuesday, and, following that, to hold a briefing at the National Press Club in Washington. Organizers said they eventually aim to bring Christian leaders into the project as well.

The effort comes as Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and the Reform movement, have independently stepped up efforts to combat anti-Muslim bigotry.

Syeed said the group represents a natural evolution in the growing relationship between the American Muslim and Jewish communities.

Syeed also recalled that after returning to America following the trip to Auschwitz, he was greeted by a vitriolic national debate surrounding the proposed Muslim community center located several blocks from Ground Zero in New York City.

“This has been a difficult time” for Muslims, as many Americans are gripped by Islamaphobia, Syeed said, adding that as the mosque debate intensified, “we noticed that the Jewish community has come forward and been the most public supporters of the mosque.”

The new interfaith effort, he added, is a byproduct of this relationship.

Bemporad noted that the seeds of the group were sown as debate around the Muslim community center intensified.

“I see similar patterns in the way Muslims are being treated to the way Jews and even Catholics” have been treated at earlier times in America’s history, he said.

Added Suhail Khan, another lead organizer of the group and senior fellow at the Institute for Global Engagement: “Rather than holding hands and singing Kumbaya,” the group will “bring people together to be the responsible adults in the room” by addressing controversial issues that can adequately be addressed by the religious community.

Washington Jewish Week

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