Making the Holocaust the Lesson on All Evils

Roundup: Pop Culture & the Arts ... Movies, Documentaries and Museum Exhibits

LOS ANGELES — Before you are submerged within the museum’s theatrically darkened central galleries, before you learn how the cafes and intellectual life of the Weimar Republic gradually gave way to the annihilationist racial fantasies Hitler outlined in “Mein Kampf” — before, that is, you experience a variation of the Holocaust narrative with its wrenching genocidal climax — there are other trials a visitor to the Museum of Tolerance here must pass through.

You must first choose a door. One is invitingly labeled “Unprejudiced”; the other, illuminated in red, screams “Prejudiced.” No contest. But one door doesn’t open; the other does. Here, evidently, we must admit we are all prejudiced, not just the guards at Auschwitz.

As proof, below a streaming news ticker (“Gay Basher Gets 12 Years”) are panels about “Confronting Hate in America”: Two Latinos are beaten on Long Island; a white supremacist shoots Jews in Los Angeles; a Sikh is murdered in a post-9/11 “hate crime”; a homosexual student is brutally murdered in Wyoming. On one panel is a description of the Oklahoma City bombing; on another, the attacks of 9/11.

Walk a little farther and you come to a mock 1950s-style diner, where a television monitor broadcasts a staged news video about a drunken driver injuring his date on prom night. We are asked to record our votes about who is most responsible: the liquor store owner who illegally sold the booze, the parents of the drunk driver, the teenager himself?

A case of cyber-bullying also solicits our careful assessments. “Think,” we are urged by the signs: “Assume responsibility,” “Ask questions,” “Speak up.”

Similar prescriptions are implied throughout this 80,000-square-foot museum, which opened in 1993 as “the educational arm of the Simon Wiesenthal Center,” the international organization associated with that famed Holocaust survivor and “Nazi hunter” who died in 2005. The museum’s central exhibition about the Holocaust and the murder of six million Jews is preceded by this “Tolerancenter,” as it is called, which strains to tie together slavery, genocides, prejudice, discrimination and hate crimes, while showing even elementary school students (as the museum literature says) “the connection between these large-scale events and the epidemic of bullying in today’s schools.”

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