The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Subject: Britain's answer to the Holocaust deniers
Date: 18 Feb 2002 20:13:08 -0800
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I was facinated to read the following article.  I 
have not visited the Imperial War Museum for about 10 
years.  I love it, not for the weapons of war but for 
the very personal things on display - what soldiers and 
other armed personnel carried with them when they went 
to war.  There are letters and all kinds of little 
things to jog the memory.  Everyone here lost family in 
both world wars and the Imperial War Museum is in a part 
of London that was hit very badly in the Blitz.  It always 
has been worth a visit and this exhibit must make it more 

Britain's Answer
By Jeff Barak
(June 11) -- 
As Holocaust denier David Irving licks his libel 
wounds, the Imperial War Museum in London provides 
another rebuttal to the revisionists with the 
opening of its permanent Holocaust Exhibition. -- 

Britain's new Imperial War Museum Holocaust 
Exhibition, opened this week by Queen Elizabeth II, 
is, above all, very British. It has neither the 
"Never Again" didactic message of Yad Vashem nor the 
heartstring-pulling emotional force of the United 
States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. 

Its chilling artifacts are displayed, in the words 
of its director, Suzanne Bardgett, "in an understated way." 

As Holocaust survivor Roman Halter remarks, "The story 
is so horrendous, one doesn't want to overblow it." 

Naomi Gryn, the daughter of the late Hugo Gryn, an 
Auschwitz survivor and leading British Reform rabbi, 
puts it rather more bluntly: "It doesn't ask you to 

It does, however, tell - and tell well- the story of 
the Holocaust, starting with the aftermath of the 
First World War and the rise of Nazism, through the 
Nuremberg Laws and Kristallnacht, to the ghettos, the 
mass transports, and the horror of the death camps. 

And, to its credit, the exhibition also mentions a 
number of touchy issues for a British institution: 
the historical role of the Church in promoting 
antisemitism; English antisemitism (the first recorded 
blood libel took place in Norwich in 1144); the 
failure of the Western world at the 1938 Evian 
Conference to open its doors to the doomed Jewish 
refugees; the 1939 British White Paper which closed 
off Palestine as a haven for Europe's Jews; and the 
question of whether the Allies could have bombed 
Auschwitz before the war's end. 

But the question arises: Why does Britain, the country 
that led the fight against Nazi Germany, feel the 
need for a Holocaust museum? And why should it be 
situated in the Imperial War Museum, an institution 
originally created to commemorate Britain's role in 
the First World War, and famous to generations of 
schoolchildren for its amazing collection of antique 
warplanes and tanks? 

Indeed, there is something disconcerting in the 
exhibition's location. To reach the two-floor permanent 
exhibit - part of a 17 million redevelopment of the 
Imperial War Museum, funded by a 12.6 million grant 
from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the rest by private 
donation - one still has to enter the museum under 
the shadow of the two immense artillery guns that dwarf 
the entrance and then pass through the atrium, dominated 
by the planes and other assorted killing machines. 

For Bardgett, this strange juxtaposition is a plus. The 
Imperial War Museum, she points out, has 400,000 visitors 
a year. A large number of them might not be persuaded 
to visit a free-standing Holocaust museum, but once 
they're inside the IWM, they might be tempted upstairs 
to the Holocaust Exhibition. 

Of course the converse is also true: The Holocaust 
Exhibition is also likely to bring a new audience, less 
enamored by the romance of warfare, to the IWM's doors. 

"The museum has evolved over time," notes Bardgett, 
who joined the IWM in 1976. "It means there's something 
for everyone here." 

Before taking on responsibility for the exhibition in 
1996, Bardgett worked in the museum's education department 
where, among other things, she taught courses on Nazi 
Germany. The motivation for establishing a Holocaust 
exhibition, she says, came from both inside the museum 
and members of the British Jewish community. 

"We had held Belsen and Warsaw Ghetto exhibitions in 
the past, so the Holocaust is in our term of reference. 
We'd been interviewing Holocaust survivors in Britain 
for over a quarter of a century, and we had been collecting 
documents for a long time. 

"The decision [to set up the exhibition] was arrived at 
when we started thinking how the 21st century should 
look back on the 20th. The Holocaust was a major topic 
and we wanted to tell its story as a slice of European 

The story of the Holocaust, though, can be told in 
many different ways, and each museum has to make its choice. 

"I knew what would fit in with the museum," says 
Bardgett, what would be needed "to give it a slightly 
British feel. In our brief to the designers we said: 
'Tell the story in a responsible, narrative, 
quasi-documentary way, which would bring to London 
key documents and artifacts, and use these documents 
to tell the story.' 

"We didn't want to be very didactic, telling visitors: 
'This is the message you should take away.' We allow 
the visitors to work things out for themselves." 

Gryn, who visited the exhibition before its official 
opening, says she was left ambivalent. "To see non-Jews 
get involved in Jewish culture was very heartwarming. 
It's fantastic that the goyim did this and they should 
feel our pain. For Jews and non-Jews to collaborate 
on a project like this - that's been one of the best 
bits of the exhibition." 

On the other hand, she continues, "there's a lot of 
embarrassment about the Holocaust in this country. 
There's the David Irving version... and then there's 
the other form of revision: that England went to war 
to protect vulnerable Jews." 

Gryn appreciates the irony of the exhibition's 
location. "I like the idea that the Imperial War 
Museum is becoming the Imperial Anti-War Museum. My 
hope is that something will excite those who go to 
marvel at the killing machines [in the atrium] to 
go upstairs and see the exhibition, to understand 
the consequences of racism and war." 

Gryn is sympathetic to the problems faced by the 
exhibition's creators: "The Holocaust is so big, 
that's the problem. I'd never envy anybody with the 
task of distilling a story from it." 

THE PATH chosen by the IWM to bring its story from 
the immensity of the Holocaust is to tell it 
straight, in the form of a fast-paced narrative 
which stresses the factual at the occasional expense 
of the emotions. To keep a human perspective, the 
exhibit both opens and closes with video clips of 
survivors - at the entrance they describe their 
childhood in pre-Nazi Europe and at its close they 
give their testimony, their personal reflections 
on the Shoah. 

One of these survivors is Halter, who now lives in 
London. Originally from Chodecz in northwest Poland, 
he was 12 when the war began. Of the 800 Jews living 
there before Germany invaded Poland, only four 

Halter survived by, in his words, "slipping through 
the net, time and time again." He worked in the 
metal factory in the Lodz ghetto; after that was 
destroyed, he was sent as part of a group of 500 
slave laborers to an ammunition factory, which was 
eventually sited in Dresden. 

When the factory was destroyed in the Allied bombing 
of Dresden, the slave laborers were sent on a death 
march. Halter and two others escaped, finding shelter 
with a German couple, Hertha and Kurt Fuchs, who hid 
them for two months until the Russians arrived. The 
Russian arrival, however, did not bring immediate 
safety in its wake. A group of ex-SS men, on 
learning that the Fuchses had hidden Jews, sought 
them out, killing the husband and one of the three 
Jews whom they found. 

Hertha Fuchs, who was named a Righteous Among the 
Nations by Yad Vashem, is 92, and now lives in 
Berlin. Asked many years later by Halter why she 
and her husband risked their lives to save three 
Jews, she replied, "I don't know. A human prompting 
made me do it." 

Halter tells his story to the camera but his decision 
to take part was not easy. "Every time I tell my 
story," he says, "it costs sleepless nights. To some 
people, it's history. To me, it's the story of my 
family who were murdered." 

What tilted the balance, he says, were the words of 
his grandfather at the outset of the war: "When you 
survive, you must speak clearly of what happened." 

Halter, an artist and architect, designed the main 
gate at Yad Vashem, and together with his son Ardyn 
of Pardess Hanna, drew the original design of the 
children's museum at Lohamei Hageta'ot. 

THE EXHIBITION itself, mounted on two floors, is well 
designed, providing a chronological account of the 
development of Nazi Germany and the horrors it brought 
to Europe. To ensure that each visitor has the time 
and space to study the exhibits, entrance to the 
exhibition will be staggered and the number of people 
allowed in at any one time will be limited. In this 
kind of exhibition, says Bardgett, "people need space." 

Aside from the main topics one would expect to be 
covered, the IWM has taken care to introduce a 
number of sub-topics - how antisemitism through the 
ages provided a fertile seedbed for Hitler's beliefs; 
the advent of "euthanasia" policies in Germany; and 
how news of the events in Europe reached Britain - 
that make the exhibition worthwhile for visitors 
who have seen other Holocaust memorials. 

The items on display, too, provide a fresh look at 
some of the topics raised. That the West knew of Nazi 
Germany's intentions for the Jewish People by 1942 is 
beyond debate. What makes this clear for the casual 
visitor is a July 1942 front page of The Daily 
Telegraph with the main headline: "Huns murder 
700,000 Jews in Poland." The subhead explains the 
Germans' method: "Mobile gas chambers." 

The physical horrors of the Holocaust are brought 
out by unusual artifacts discovered by the exhibition's 
researchers. On the first floor, there's a mortuary 
dissection table from the Kaufbeuren-Irsee psychiatric 
hospital near Munich. More than 2,000 patients from 
this hospital were either deported to "euthanasia" 
centers or killed on-site. The bodies of those killed, 
in a foretaste of what was to come, were then cremated. 

Later on in the exhibition, in the display telling 
the story of life in the ghettos, one comes across 
a simple wooden cart. A photograph on the wall 
nearby shows the same cart laden with dead bodies 
from the Warsaw Ghetto. The cart was found by the 
IWM's researcher in Poland at the Warsaw Jewish 
cemetery and is currently on loan to the 

Perhaps the most stunning exhibit is a large-scale 
model of part of Auschwitz, which is used to explain 
the workings of the extermination camp. The model 
traces the movements of 2,000 Hungarian Jews from 
the Berehovo Ghetto, from their arrival at Auschwitz 
in May 1944 to, for many, their immediate death. 
Behind the exhibit is an immense pile of shoes; the 
Nazis made their victims undress before gassing them. 

There were, of course, some individuals who tried 
to help. On display is a typewriter from the 
Budapest office of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish 
diplomat who provided protective passes for Hungarian 
Jews that, although not recognized by international 
law, still managed to save some 100,000 Jews. 

There is also a fascinating letter on display, 
written in July 1939 by Frank Foley, the British 
MI6 station head in Berlin, to a Dr. D. Arian in 
Tel Aviv. Captain Foley's cover at the British 
Embassy was director of the Passport Control Office, 
and in this role he issued thousands of visas to 
Palestine to German Jews, despite the strict British 
regulations on Jewish immigration there. 

In reply to a letter from Arian, thanking the 
British official for providing his mother with a 
visa to escape Germany, Capt. Foley writes: "The 
quota [the British restrictions on Jewish 
immigration to Palestine] is a calamity, especially 
in these days of rabid persecution and permanent 
cold pogrom. The courage and fortitude of the Jews 
are beyond praise." 

The exhibition makes it clear that Jews were not 
the only victims of the Nazis - homosexuals, Jehovah's 
Witnesses and Gypsies were also singled out - but 
the IWM does not play the modern PC game of looking 
for moral equivalence. In its question-and-answer 
section at the end of the exhibition, the museum 
clearly declares: "The Holocaust stands out as 
unique among the Nazi murder of civilians... not 
just because the Jews were the largest single victim 
group... No other group was targeted for total 
annihilation in this way."

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