A universal progressive politics is influencing museums around the world
When a George Floyd exhibit was announced at a Florida Holocaust museum — overlapping with today’s Holocaust Memorial Day — it provoked uproar within the Jewish community. Featuring photos taken at the spot in Minneapolis where Floyd died, the exhibition’s implied comparison between Floyd and the Shoah left many feeling outraged. In a later statement, the Museum offered its rationale:
Critics argued that the comparison relativised the Holocaust in spite of the museum director’s saying in a later statement that it was “not a comparison of pain”. But the incident was the culmination of a trend in which Holocaust museums around the world are adopting an increasingly universal progressive narrative in their shows.
Over the last few years, there have been museum discussions about Bullying Prevention, White Myths Black Lives: The Root of Racial Oppression in America, and a poetry event in which students were “empowered” to write about their “unique identities and backgrounds.” An image of the Capitol storming event greeted recent visitors to USHMM’s website, and Steven Goldstein of The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect publicly blasted the Trump administration. Even Israel’s YadVashem is embroiled in a controversy over the alleged removal of a photo showing the 1941 meeting of Hitler and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Amin Al Husseini.
With a recent survey suggesting that 56% of US millennials had never heard of Auschwitz, and 31% of Americans believing that two million or fewer Jews perished in the Holocaust, it is time for museums to focus on education about the events of the Holocaust itself. They should not present the Holocaust as part of a universal genocide phenomenon, but instead, depict it for what it was — history’s most horrific antisemitic crime, an atrocity targeted at the Jewish people.
Just before Jews were sent to the Auschwitz gas chambers, men, women and children were violently forced to undress; supervising them were the Sonderkommando, who would later drag the victims’ dead bodies to the crematorium. One Jewish Sondercommando who miraculously survived has testified that the tortured souls’ only wish was to tell the world “what these evil people did to us” — museums must focus on honouring the six million victims’ dying wish, and concentrate on telling their story.
Hannah Gal is a London based journalist with credits including The SpectatorUS, The Guardian, The Jerusalem Post and LotusEaters among others