I have never visited, nor will I ever enter, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. It opened twenty years ago to help world leaders and citizens to “confront hatred, prevent genocide, promote human dignity, and strengthen democracy.” These certainly are worthy goals – and pompous platitudes.
To be true to history, an American Holocaust museum should comprise one large empty room, draped in black. That would symbolize what the American government did – essentially nothing – to try to save European Jews, like that 7-year old boy in Warsaw, from Nazi extermination.
To be sure, it was not only an American failure. In his chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, Yitzhak Zuckerman struggled to understand the reticence of Zionists in Palestine: “Why wasn’t it possible for them to come to us?” Had only ten paratroopers reached the ghetto, “nothing fateful would have changed, but it would have been different. . . . they would come to us in our distress.” But nobody came.
Especially in Israel, but not only there, Holocaust museums, rather than mollify visitors with trendy political correctness, might confront Zygielbojm’s bitter anguish and Zuckerman’s eternally haunting question.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author, most recently, of “Against the Grain: A Historian’s Journey,” published in May by Quid Pro Books.