LOS ANGELES

The Museum of Tolerance

By Nathaniel Popper

Published April 29, 2005, issue of April 29, 2005.

Apparently, a museum dedicated to tragedy does not have to leave out friendliness and fun. A guide gives each visitor to the Museum of Tolerance a personal introduction, with a second welcome provided by an electronic host composed of television screens, all explaining that, deep down, everyone is prejudiced.

The first few rooms of the museum put the Holocaust in the context of a very American message of multicultural tolerance. A television flashes images of famous civil-rights activists, while the “Point of View Diner” provides lessons on tolerance that are as easy to digest as a plate of Chef Boyardee. In immigrant-rich Los Angeles, this has made the Museum of Tolerance one of the most popular field trip destinations.

But while the name says tolerance, the second half of the subterranean museum, and the rest of the building, are unquestionably dedicated to the Holocaust. A series of high-tech dioramas tell the story of the European Jews up until their destruction. Each visitor receives a passport for a Jewish child, and at the end of the visit, a computer reveals the fate of the child.

The museum uses as much multimedia technology as you would expect from a museum that lies just miles from the soundstages of Hollywood. The other claim to fame of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which runs the museum, is its filmmaking division, which has won two Oscars. The founder of the center and museum, Rabbi Marvin Hier, knows how to play to his audience. Hier came to Los Angeles in 1977 with a million dollars and has built not only a museum, but also a franchise. He has offices in New York, Miami, Buenos Aires, Toronto and Paris, and has grand new plans to open a Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem.



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