In my mind there are three different types of museums. The first type is the type where you quietly walk through, sit on a bench and really look if something really speaks to you, and wonder how someone learned to paint or sculpt or photograph in that way. This is the type of museum I rarely haunt these days. Not because te arts don’t mean anything to me, but because they don’t quite fit into my lifestyle if you know what I mean. The next type of museum is the type that I can take my children to, and are in fact geared towards them. At these museums we learn together. We learn how the eye functions with hands on experiments or the anatomy of the ear by climbing through a big model. We see how butterflies emerge from their chrysalis or how ants work together to accomplish their goals. We learn about physics and music and art and we have FUN. Then there is the third type of museum. It is designed to teach a lesson or showcase something of historical significance. This is the type of museum that touches me the most.
Ever had a museum touch you? I mean really touch you? So much so that you remember the exibits and feeling years later? The Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria and the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam really moved me. Not because I’m obsessed with The Holocaust (or maybe I am?…when given all the time in the world during my hospitalization to read any genre of literature available I chose two books by Holocaust survivors) but because it represents to me what can happen any time, any where to any one. I found an old college assignment (remember dashing off papers in as little time possible and hoping they’d fly with the professor?) that brought forth all those memories and illustrates what these places evoked in me.
The Museum of Tolerance is a site that is intellectually stimulating, emotionally wrenching, and personally demanding. It is significant because it challenges one’s personal, cultural, and intellectual ways of viewing the world. The museum entreats all of us to reflect on our lives and the things we believe in, in order to make any changes that are necessary. It asks us to realize the power of our words, to take responsibility for our actions, and to understand individual choice.
The museum is an incredible facility that promotes the learning and application of tolerance. It vividly reenacts events that happened in Nazi Germany in what is now called the Holocaust. It has an outreach program devoted to the research and education of students and teachers. It contains artifacts from Nazi Germany concentration camps that remind us that what we see and experience in the Museum of Tolerance is real. And lastly, it is important to know that the museum is specifically set apart in remembrance of all of the Jews who were exterminated. This is done with the goal that something like this will never happen again.
There is nothing in the museum that can be taken lightly. The purpose of the museum is not to depress the masses of people that visit every year, but to educate them about hate and scapegoating, and the possible results. It shows us real examples of this to explain how such a tragedy was allowed to happen. It illustrates how a nation as a whole in their passivity allowed such atrocities to take place.
Unfortunately, history does repeat itself. There have been many instances in the world in which masses of people were exterminated because they did not fit the mold of what that particular society deemed ideal. It is easy to forget that things like this happen, because we do not want to believe that humankind could possibly do the things they have done. That is why the museum is so incredibly important. It educates us, and it reminds us of the atrocities that happened both in Germany, and historically throughout the world. The goal is that we learn to be less biased, more tolerant, more knowledgeable, so that we never allow something like this to repeat itself anywhere, but particularly in the United States. We need to be reminded that the United States has had its own Holocaust. This happened when we colonized the states, and virtually wiped out the Native American population. Anyone can be a target for discrimination if they do not fit the accepted mold. We need to make sure we broaden our perspective and totally get rid of a general accepted mold. Everyone is different, so no matter what the mold is, someone will not fit.
When I was in Europe a few years ago, I visited a concentration camp in Austria called Mauthausen. Instead of entering the camp in the traditional manor by being dropped off right in front, I entered the camp walking in the same way thousands of Jewish people did everyday. I walked up a few hundred precipitous, slate steps built into the side of a quarry. In the camps emaciated bodies were required to collectively carry huge slabs of rock to the top. If one person fell under the weight of the load, they all toppled like dominoes. In silence I traveled these steps, and when I reached the top, I could hardly catch my breath, or contain my tears. Silence permeated the concentration camp as tourists visited the site of fear, misery, and unjustified death. This is the same atmosphere that can be felt when visiting the Museum of Tolerance.
The museum makes one question their own convictions. It raises questions like, “What would I have done if I were a Jew in Nazi Germany?”, “Would I have stood up for what I believed in in light of the circumstances?”, “Would I have sheltered Jews? Or would I have flushed them out?” It makes one sick to their stomach, knowing what happened to people just like themselves, in a Western culture just like their own.
The museum has the same psychological impact as a real concentration camp. As one descends to the lower floor of the museum, it gets darker and colder. As one goes through the Holocaust presentation, they realize they are locked in rooms for twelve minute increments. Some people are separated from their families , divided by gender and physical health. They are sent down different hallways, not knowing when they will meet back up again. An explanation of how things got out of hand (which was discussed above) is conveyed during the tour. It makes the whole experience take on personal meaning. It makes one see how we can so easily be misled by authority figures. And finally, we are each given a card with a child’s picture. We view the Holocaust through their eyes, which makes it even more horrible. In the end we find out the fate of the child whose card we hold. By the time we find out whether the child survived or was killed, it almost does not matter, because knowing what they went through weighs so heavily on the mind. The whole tour makes one feel to a very small degree the emotions the Jewish people must have felt in the camps.
The museum educates vicariously as well. One does not need to go to the museum to learn about tolerance and the Holocaust. One can simply access the information on the Internet. They have a wonderful web site at motlc.weisentahl.com that contains the information contained at the museum, particularly in the learning center. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the mass media were to get involved in an educational venture like this? The message could be spread across the globe.
The Museum of Tolerance definitely achieves its goal of educating the public about the Holocaust and teaching people about tolerance. There are very few sites that convey a strong personal, social and religious message that is both not likely to be forgotten, and worth conveying. The Museum of Tolerance stands out as a great example of what can be taught within specific parameters. The Museum of Tolerance provides information that challenges us to think about our personal, cultural, and intellectual ways of viewing the world.