Edwin Black: Writes editorial demands leaders of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum resign

Historians in the News

[Mr. Black is the author of the award-winning IBM and the Holocaust and the recently published Internal Combustion: How Corporations and Governments Addicted the World to Oil and Derailed the Alternatives.]

As we close 2007 and embark on a new year of possibilities, one of Washington’s most overlooked areas of disappointment has been the leadership at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The complaints include: the shameful mishandling of the transfer of the Holocaust-era archive at Bad Arolsen, sidestepping the issue of rabid anti-Semitism while focusing on race hatred elsewhere in the world, plus systematically manipulating Holocaust history to deny the truth about Sephardic victims of the Holocaust as well as American corporate involvement in the Holocaust. What’s more, pressure tactics have been employed against critics to silence them, while installing the Museum itself as the sole arbiter and voice of Holocaust memory—even above the voice of the survivors themselves.

USHMM misconduct, misrepresentations, media manipulation, and outright bullying of members of the Jewish community, as well as governmental and intergovernmental bodies have shaken the confidence of many Holocaust survivors groups and those who support them. Tawdry fundraising tactics have irritated leading members of the Holocaust and Jewish community and exposed the motives of the USHMM to turn the Holocaust into a Disney-style feature complete with a theme park in Washington. Indeed, just days ago during the Christmas festivities at Washington’s Union Station, a tourism display featured a gaily wrapped, gift box labeled “The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum” as an attraction. What a seasonal delight! Genocide as a Santa tidbit. Clearly, as each survivor dies off, the Holocaust becomes more of a historical novelty to be manipulated at will.

The bad acts are committed not only by USHMM officials but also by its extended and symbiotic alter-ego, the United States Holocaust Commission, whose members often tread where the Museum officials would rather not go. The USHMM essentially reports to no one and is accountable to no one. In theory it reports to its other half, the United States Holocaust Commission, appointed by President George Bush. But together, the Commission and the Museum act like to arrogant, untouchable kings.

Few have the moxey or credentials to stand against the Museum leadership. After all, Holocaust is the USHMM’s middle name. Cloaked in that powerful symbol, backed by seemingly unlimited donations, and aligned with historians for hire by the corporations who committed the genocide, the USHMM can spend millions of dollars, act unilaterally, hijack Holocaust history and memory and do so with impunity. Retaliation against and harassment of any who even dare question its decision and policies can be and is often arranged through well-placed emails, telephone calls, and Congressional allies who would rather not probe the improprieties.

Jewish, Holocaust and Second Generation groups, hesitant about criticizing the beloved USHMM as an institution, have rightly focused their unhappiness not against the Museum itself, which to them represents a precious legacy, but rather at the leadership. Many want change. Change is needed.
But for change to occur, a fresh team must be installed and key staffers of the current unhappy crowd must resign. The process must begin at the top with Paul Shapiro, Arthur Berger, Andrew Hollinger, and Sara Bloomfield. ....

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