I was not prepared for how impressive Dallas’s Holocaust and Humans Rights Museum was going to be when I visited it on April 3 while in Texas. Honestly, I didn’t realize Dallas was quite a hotbed of Holocaust survivors, and that President Lyndon B. Johnson, of Dallas, then acting as a Congressman, was someone who helped quite a few Jewish people himself by “any means necessary” get to the United States in 1937.
I’ve been to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C. on two occasions, I believe, and it never feels like enough. There is so much to read and taken in to really appreciate the gravity of it all. I certainly felt that way coming out of the Dallas Museum. I was squeezing it in in the early afternoon, with a show I needed to be at by 5 p.m.-ish, so I was unfortunately rushing through. In fact, I have to admit, I completely bypassed the entire wing of the Museum dedicated to Human Rights and genocide education, as well as the special exhibit they had on the Japanese American World War II experience. Ugh! That exhibit would have been particularly illuminating for me. One day, I will get back to Dallas because there was more to see on the Holocaust, much less circling back to the Human Rights portion. However, the reason I “lost” an hour I would have had to look at the Human Rights section was because I wanted to make sure I was present for the documentary the Museum airs every hour featuring Holocaust survivors telling their story. I did not regret sitting down for that. It was unforgettable.
At this point, I know the broad strokes of the Holocaust, and I know some of the more specific details. What set the Dallas Museum apart as particularly compelling, and maddening (it’s meant to be!), is how they divvy up the Holocaust exhibit by four categories of people: victims, perpetrators and/or collaborators, bystanders (who are complicit by standing by), and upstanders (those who tried to fight back against the extermination of the Jews and other minority groups in some capacity). I loved, loved getting to read the stories of the upstanders. Some of them quite young people, but still being unbelievably courageous. I get goosebumps just thinking about them and what they did!
What also struck me about the Holocaust was the number of Jews, particularly German Jews who felt they had assimilated well into German society and culture, who never expected it to get that bad. Because, in one respect, how could you expect that? But in another, it’s terribly sad to see detailed how blindsided various families were by what happened. Ginette Albert, a French survivor and a Dallas resident, was quoted as saying, “My grandfather stayed in Paris. He felt people over 60 are not going to be bothered. But it was a lie. In 1943, they came and picked him up. And he went to Drancy and then to Auschwitz; both of my grandparents died.”
Such senselessness, and it’s hard to even quantify that enormity of the senseless when you consider how many generations of people manifest from one survivor of the Holocaust and what they go on to contribute to the world. Now, exterminate 6 million. The amount of family trees uprooted, never to realize their potential in the present day, much less future, is hard to fathom. As one survivor put it in the documentary (to poorly paraphrase from my recollection), think of how many Einsteins and Oppenheims were lost to the Holocaust. Not that a survivor would need to go on to be an Einstein or an Oppenheim to matter, because their life mattered regardless of what their life came to be, but I think it shows the point well.
Fortunately, we do have survivors, and we do know what they went on to contribute to the world that would have been lost if they were exterminated, like Ellen Loeb Katz. She was liberated by the American Army, along with her mother, at the Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria. After being liberated, she became a doctor specializing in hematology and actually worked in Dallas! As the above notes, she would go on to develop a method for removing and preserving bone marrow for reimplantation in patients fighting leukemia.
What a gift to the world that one person was! And to think, again, of how many of them we lost out on because of senseless hatred, bigotry, and violence. And because of bystanders unwilling to stand up to do more, like the United States and other democracies, including Britain. It’s absolutely maddening (the emotion I was referencing before) how the United States virtually closed its doors to Jews fleeing Nazi persecution due to bigotry, age-old immigration fears (they’ll take our jobs!), and the unfounded, paranoid fear that they were going to secretly be Nazi saboteurs. Open the damn doors!
Everyone knows the story, I would think by now, of the St. Louis, which originally sailed for Cuba on June 1, 1939, only to be denied, and then the captain sought entry into the United States. He was refused, sailed back to Europe, disembarked in Belgium, and about a third of the passengers were later killed in the Holocaust. Shameful. Disgusting. Abhorrent. And a stain on our history. In the present day, we still fail to learn anything from this “stain,” as we continue to deny those fleeing persecution, crime, or just those looking for a better life here.
In another example, an effort to receive 20,000 Jewish children — children! — failed to pass in Congress. Cowards, abject cowards.
And yet, there is the other side of things, the stories of the survivors who spoke about what it was like seeing the Americans arrive at the camps to save them, to liberate them. Again, it gives me goosebumps, and dammit, I can’t help it, a bit of swelling pride. Because that portion of the story is the America I believe in, want us to strive for, and be.
Of course, as the Holocaust exhibits point out, the Holocaust, its persecution through “othering,” and extermination, wasn’t confined to the Jews (although, obviously, they made up the bulk of those imprisoned and killed), but there were also political prisoners, Jehovah’s witnesses, Gypsies, and homosexuals targeted and killed.
The ways in which the Nazis tried to others these groups, again particularly pronounced with Jews, was through disgusting propaganda. I could barely sit through 10 seconds of watching a Nazi “documentary” depict the Jews as rats, so, therefore, it was okay to slaughter them. Or the opposite, by propagandizing Hitler as this “fascinating” and “powerful” leader to thwart the Jews, as seen in one painting by Herman Otto Hoyer, circa 1937, In the Beginning Was the Word.
Speaking of propaganda, I didn’t realize that the Nazis latched onto the idea of an eagle. That’s interesting. In one 1924 propaganda poster for the Nazi Party, an eagle is depicted breaking away from its chains and flying toward a “rising sun,” which is in fact the swastika, aka approaching a “new dawn” in Germany’s liberation.
It is so vital that we understand how it is that hate collectively leads to persecution and violence. Somehow, again, in the year 2022, even with the stark example of the Holocaust sitting right here for us to study, examine and learn from, we still see “othering” happening, we still see hate happening, and we still see persecution and violence happening.
This “othering” can be so powerful, and the lure of power itself so intoxicating, that neighbors turned on neighbors in the most violent of ways during the run-up to the Holocaust. In one instance from the documentary, a survivor talked about how her neighbor, whom she had been cordial with for years, — they broke bread together and watched each other’s children — was the one later inside their home with a gun threatening to kill her if she reminded him of their past. Or Rosa Blum, a Romanian survivor and Dallas resident, who said, “They gave the guns to the people from the community. Our neighbor of mine had the gun on his shoulder, and it really hurt me very much that he was the one that saw to it that we would leave. They sent us to the train cars.”
How far would the Third Reich had gotten, if not for those willing to help, collaborate, and murder?
Time for a brain cleanser in the form of another brave, inspiring upstander: Pastor André Trocmé and other villagers in the mountain communities of the collaborative French state of Vichy, all of whom helped to save 5,000 Jews by opening their homes. When asked to describe the goodness of their deeds, one villager replied, “How can you call us ‘good’? We were doing what had to be done.”
Or what about Modechai Tenenbaum, who I think was a relatively young fellow, and was the commander of the Bialystok Ghetto Underground, who was quoted as saying, “Let us fall as heroes, and though we die, yet we shall live.”
Goodness, I hope if I am ever tested in the way those under the fast approaching boots of the Third Reich, and I sure hope the world never gets to such a point to require it, I am as brave as those villagers and Tenenbaum.
Open the doors. Love your neighbor, both your direct neighbor and your neighbor 10,000 miles away. We’re all human. Never forget and never again has to mean something. Again, one of my biggest takeaway from the Holocaust portion of the Museum was how so many turned away from what was before their eyes, thus enabling it, for myriad reasons, or worse, actively collaborated with the Nazis to help in their “Final Solution.” What led to both is not old in the sense of being ancient history, has not been extinguished, and is something we must always be vigilant against.
If you have a chance to go see the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum in Dallas, I highly, highly recommend it. Here is the link to their site. It’s unforgettable. I particularly recommend the documentary where you get to hear from the survivors directly. I cannot do justice to their stories with my recollection. I can only tell you that it made me cry. I’m thankful that they lived to tell their stories to the world, and to us, and to future generations.
Here is a gallery of some of the photos I took.