Holocaust survivors, veterans gather at DC museum

 

Associated Press

Elderly Holocaust survivors and the veterans who helped liberate them gathered for what could be their last big reunion Monday at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Nearly 1,000 survivors and World War II vets joined with former President Bill Clinton and Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Holocaust activist Elie Wiesel to mark the museum’s 20th anniversary. Organizers chose not to wait for the 25th milestone because many survivors and vets may not be alive in another five or 10 years.

“We felt it was important, while that generation is still with us in fairly substantial numbers, to bring them together,” said Sara Bloomfield, the museum’s director.

Washington has many monuments and memorials that offer something special for visitors from around the world, Clinton told the crowd, “but the Holocaust memorial will be our conscience.”

Since the museum opened, the world has made huge scientific discoveries, including the sequencing of the human genome, Clinton said.

“Every non age-related difference you can see in this room and across the globe, every single one is contained in one half of 1 percent of our genetic makeup … but every one of us spends too much time on that half a percent,” Clinton said. “That makes us vulnerable to the fever and the sickness that the Nazis gave to the Germans.

“And that sickness is very alive all across the world today.”

The occasion marked a reunion of sorts for Clinton and Wiesel: Both were on hand to dedicate the museum at its 1993 opening. On Sunday night, the museum presented its highest honor to World War II veterans who helped end the Holocaust. Susan Eisenhower accepted the award on behalf of her grandfather, U.S. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, and all veterans of the era.

The federally funded museum also launched a campaign to raise $540 million by 2018 to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive and to combat anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial and contemporary genocide.

It has already secured gifts totaling $258.7 million in its quest to double the size of the museum’s endowment by its 25th anniversary. Also, a $15 million gift from Holocaust survivors David and Fela Shapell will help build a new collections and conservation center.

Bloomfield said organizers wanted to show Holocaust survivors, veterans and rescuers that the effort will continue to honor the memory of 6 million murdered Jews, in part by working to prevent genocide in the future. For instance, a study released by the museum last month found the longer the Syrian conflict continues, the greater the danger that mass sectarian violence results in genocide.

The museum’s theme for its 20th anniversary is “Never Again: What You Do Matters.”

Vera Greenwood, who was born in Berlin and remembers seeing Hitler with Nazis marching in the street, said her father knew they had to leave when he was forced out of his job as a lawyer. She remembers Nazi officers coming to their house and taking her father’s books.

“Though I was very young, I knew something was very wrong,” said Greenwood, now 84. “I still feel we were very lucky to survive.”

Her family moved to Palestine with a British visa and ended up fighting for Israel’s independence. Greenwood lived in Israel for 30 years before immigrating to the U.S.

She and her husband, Fred, who survived the Holocaust in Holland as a child by being hidden and passed from house to house, wanted to be part of the last large reunion of survivors.

“In 10 more years, most of us will be gone,” Greenwood said, noting the museum is a way to keep their stories alive.

Herman Zeitchik, 89, of Silver Spring, Md., was a young U.S. Army soldier when his unit landed at Normandy in the mission to liberate Europe. He remembers coming across the Dachau concentration camp unexpectedly in southern Germany.

“They never told us there was a concentration camp, but we smelled it,” Zeitchik said. “We smelled the burning flesh.”

Later during a patrol, Zeitchik saw people held within the camp’s chain-link fence. “That’s the first time I knew about the concentration camps,” he said.

Dachau was the first regular Nazi concentration camp, established in 1933. The Americans liberated Dachau’s prisoners in 1945.

The museum continues collecting objects, photographs and other evidence of the Holocaust from survivors, veterans and archives located as far away as China and Argentina. Curators expect the collection to double in size over the next decade.

This week, the museum is opening a special, long-term exhibit titled Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration and Complicity During the Holocaust. It includes interviews with perpetrators never shown before.

Curator Susan Bachrach said the exhibit’s research challenges the idea that the Holocaust was primarily about Hitler and Nazi leaders. Surveys at the museum show that’s what most visitors believe.

“That’s very comforting to people, because it puts distance between the visitors and who was involved,” Bachrach said.

So, the museum set out to look at ordinary people complicit in the killing and persecution of millions of Jews through greed, peer pressure, a desire for career advancement or other factors beyond hatred or anti-Semitism. The exhibit includes images of bystanders looking on as Jews were led away.

Focusing only on fanatical Nazis would be a serious misunderstanding of the Holocaust, Bloomfield said.

“The Holocaust wouldn’t have been possible, first of all, without enormous indifference throughout Germany and German-occupied Europe, but also thousands of people who were, say, just doing their jobs,” she said, such as a tax official who collected special taxes levied against Jews.

Much more is still being learned about the Holocaust, Bloomfield noted.

The museum is compiling an encyclopedia of all incarceration sites throughout Europe. When the project began, scholars expected to list 10,000 such sites. Now the number stands at 42,000.

Since opening, the museum has received more than 35 million visitors.

Information: www.ushmm.org

Read more Just In! | Travel News stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">Garmin VIRB Action Camera</span>

    Gear + Gadgets

    Capturing everything everywhere

    Garmin, the cutting edge in GPS devices, is entering the action camera market with verve — or rather, VIRB, a rugged, water-resistant, 1080p little powerhouse of a video camera. With optional mounts and straps, you can shoot from your bike, your head, your shoulder and other places under conditions few traditional cameras or smart phones dare to go. Add the optional Dive Case, and that includes up to 50 meters underwater. The 4.7-inch by 2.2-inch, by 1.6-inch-deep video camera weighs in at a little over six ounces, and has a 1.4-inch hi res color LCD. It comes with a rechargeable Lithium Ion battery (USB cable included) that lasts up to three hours at the highest video resolution. The lens shoots in three modes — wide, medium, or narrow — and the camera automatically adjusts for shaking (think crashing waves, rocky terrain, skydiving). Upgrade to the spiffier VIRB Elite, and you get more sensors that can collect and display data on speed, altitude, G-Force and heart rate. You also get GPS and geo-tagging capabilities, plus Wi-Fi connectivity for control via smartphone.

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">Patti Smith at the Riis Landing Ferry Dock at Fort Tilden, New York</span>

    New York: Patti Smith, other artists host free Rockaway! festival

    Rocking Rockaway

  •  
Disneyland Paris’ new attraction based on the animated movie ‘Ratatouille.’

    France: Disneyland Paris getting Ratatouille attraction

    Oh, rats!

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK



  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category