When a left-wing heckler lectured President Biden by saying “as a rabbi, I need you to call for a ceasefire right now,” the rhetorical formulation was familiar. “Speaking as a…” has become a fixed preamble of political discourse by those seeking to assert authority. Yet there’s one version of this I can’t help but notice I’m not hearing these days: “As a Holocaust museum and education center…”
On Oct. 7, Hamas executed a well-planned attack explicitly seeking to annihilate the Jewish nation. Since then, the group has explained that it will continue to do so until the Jews have been wiped out. The tactics were so monstrous they immediately called to mind the worst atrocities that have been visited on the Jewish people, including the Holocaust. Oct. 7 was the deadliest day for Jews since—yes—the Holocaust. Massive, organized gatherings to support Hamas’s final solution have featured Nazi signage and openly genocidal chants, echoed by a member of Congress. Jewish students chased in a university were told they could hide in the attic. Speaking of which, this week a German day care center named after Anne Frank decided to change its name at the behest of “migrant” families, who claimed to struggle in explaining who Anne Frank was to their children.
If that’s not the Bat Signal for an entire vocation built around One Big Thing, I don’t know what is.
Yet as Daniel Greenfield notes in a column at World Israel News, our caped crusaders are stepping a bit lightly: “Most Holocaust museums surveyed did issue some sort of statement about the attacks, even if it was only to retweet a message from the local Jewish federation, and sometimes only on social media, where they are less widely visible. Some issued stronger press statements on their own sites but virtually none then followed up with further updates beyond one press release… Holocaust museums have generally continued with their pre-existing programs.”
Holocaust museums are not shy, and they are not unconcerned with the news.
“The Museum continues to have grave concern about the global refugee crisis and our response to it,” declared the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the highest profile of all institutions, in February 2017 after the Trump administration’s announcement of a refugee pause. “During the 1930s and 1940s, the United States, along with the rest of the world, generally refused to admit Jewish refugees from Nazism due to antisemitic and xenophobic attitudes, harsh economic conditions, and national security fears.”
The following year, after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s ignorant comparison of modern U.S. border security to the closing of legal immigration paths for Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, the Auschwitz Memorial in Poland defended her: “When we look at Auschwitz we see the end of the process. It’s important to remember that the Holocaust actually did not start from gas chambers. This hatred gradually developed from words, stereotypes & prejudice through legal exclusion, dehumanisation & escalating violence.”
Of course, the logical endpoint of this line of thinking was the popular social media talking point that resurfaces regularly—that, actually, Anne Frank died of typhus in the camps, therefore the Nazis’ elaborate and demonic murder machinery was basically incidental.
Everything is the Holocaust, in other words, except the Holocaust.
The dilution of the Holocaust by its own memorial centers helps explain why those very institutions haven’t been at the forefront of public discussion after Oct. 7, which for genocidal antisemites was like a Civil War reenactment with live bullets. In the rush to universalize a particular Jewish experience, Holocaust centers have made it more difficult to summon and spread an appropriate level of outrage and horror when the Nazis’ self-appointed heirs attempt to finish the job against Jews.
Yes, many put out statements—literally the least they could do. But what has happened in American and Europe after the attacks is what places like Holocaust museums call a “teaching moment.” The spread of anti-Jewish boycotts was followed by the destruction of Jewish property and places of worship, which was itself followed by unpunished street violence against Jews in broad daylight and the effort to muscle Jews out of public educational institutions and the professional industries just beyond.
Why doesn’t every single Holocaust center in the country have an exhibit that is at least as explicit in making the analogy as are the hordes out in the streets who are chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and holding signs calling for the world to “clean” itself of Jews and physically assaulting Jewish passersby? Why aren’t these museums partnering with local schools on programs about what we’re seeing now? Organizing counter-demonstrations? Putting out regular statements about specific acts of antisemitism every day? Submitting revisions and updates to textbooks that cover the Holocaust?
Why aren’t their administrators and directors carrying around “kidnapped” signs? What are they afraid of? Whom are they afraid of? Or…are they of a different mindset?
Isn’t this precisely the moment these institutions were established for? After all, as someone once said, the Holocaust didn’t start with gas chambers. Do the people running them actually care about the moment, or are they fearful their “outreach” to everyone else will be compromised? Or…do some of them have some philosophical uneasiness about siding with Israel at this moment?