Lessons of Holocaust for 9/11 Museum

Editor's Notebook

getty images

By Jane Eisner

Published May 14, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Imagine: It is 1958, 13 years after the end of the Holocaust that devastated much of a continent and buried six million Jews along with million of others. Imagine now trying to build a museum to memorialize what happened, educate visitors about the atrocities, and confront the legacy of European genocide in a global context.

Now imagine doing this at, say, that most recognizable of concentration camps: Auschwitz. No, not in the way that the Polish government decreed in 1947 when it established what has become known as the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, which is not a museum so much as a collection of artifacts — one whose mission is not to tell the whole story of Auschwitz, never mind the whole story of the Holocaust.

Imagine something grander, more ambitious. What did we know of the consequences of the Holocaust a little more than a decade afterwards? What was its legacy? We knew then of the Nuremberg trials, Germany’s return to democracy, the way survivors began to rebuild their lives and, of course, the establishment of the State of Israel.

But the heart-wrenching personal stories of terror, death and survival were only just surfacing in 1958. “Night,” Elie Wiesel’s iconic account of his time as a prisoner in Auschwitz, would not be published in English for another two years. Adolf Eichmann, one of the most infamous Nazi organizers of the Holocaust, would not be hanged for another four years.

We did not yet know that the Soviet Union, which aggressively re-divided Europe after World War II, would itself collapse a few decades later. And we did not know that Israel would become a vibrant and extraordinarily successful nation that would also be afflicted by continued wars with its neighbors and the moral stain of occupation.

Even today, nearly seven decades after the liberation of Auschwitz, it is impossible to tally up all the consequences of the Holocaust, to codify the profound human losses and understand its deep geopolitical ramifications, to overcome the scent of death from the scene. So imagine now the challenge facing the National September 11 Memorial Museum, a scant 13 years after airplanes crashed into buildings and turned ordinary American ground into a graveyard.

It is no exaggeration to say that the new museum built beneath the World Trade Center plaza in lower Manhattan, opening to the public May 21, is deeply connected to efforts and institutions that memorialize the Holocaust.

Many of its leaders are steeped in that experience. Alice Greenwald, director of the 9/11 museum, came to the position in 2006 directly from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, where she served as associate museum director for museum programs. David Layman, who designed the exhibits for the 9/11 museum, did the same work for the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie, Ill. Clifford Chanin curated the Legacy of Absence collection for the Holocaust museum in Skokie and founded the Legacy Project. He worked for years as a consultant to the 9/11 Museum and is now its vice president for education and public programs.

The Holocaust, Chanin said in an interview, showed us “the importance of memory, the civic function of memory, how to memorialize mass murder. It codified the moment.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.