Broadcast: April 7, 2003
In April of nineteen-ninety-three, an unusual museum in Washington, D.C., opened its doors. Since then, almost nineteen-million people have visited. I’m Steve Ember with Doug Johnson.
The tenth anniversary of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is our report this week on the VOA Special English program THIS IS AMERICA.
Some museums in America’s capital are filled with artworks. Others teach about the history of the nation, the planet, even the skies. More than nine-million people a year make the Air and Space Museum the most visited museum in the world.
Down the street, the Holocaust Museum serves a different purpose. Its job is to keep terrible memories alive.
The museum honors the six-million Jews killed in what Nazi Germany called the "Final Solution." The museum also honors the millions of other people murdered by the Nazis before and during World War Two. Religious and political dissidents, Gypsies, homosexuals, prisoners of war. The mentally and physically disabled. The list goes on.
Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party came to power in nineteen-thirty-three. Anger remained over Germany's loss in World War One. The economy was bad. There was social unrest. Hitler gained support as he blamed the problems on Jews and others. Germany, he said, needed "racial purity."
Hate grew into a system of murder. This spread as Germany occupied other countries in Europe. The Nazis built camps where they killed people with poison gas and burned the bodies. A holocaust is a great fire.
The fires burned until Hitler killed himself and Germany lost the war in nineteen-forty-five.
In nineteen-seventy-eight, American President Jimmy Carter established a Holocaust Memorial Commission. The next year, this group proposed to create a permanent memorial in Washington. The federal government provided land across from the Washington Monument.
Planners had to decide the best way to remember the Holocaust and its victims. The work was difficult and emotional. It took years.
The museum opened on April twenty-sixth, nineteen-ninety-three. It operates through the cooperation of the government and a private organization.
A number of events are planned to observe the tenth anniversary. These include a special exhibit to open in June. It will show original notebooks, journals and other writings of Anne Frank. Some will be shown outside The Netherlands for the first time.
Anne Frank was a young German girl. She and her family fled to The Netherlands in nineteen-thirty-three. Until she was eleven years old, she lived a normal life. But then Germany occupied The Netherlands. Jews lost all rights. After awhile, the Frank family went into hiding.
For two years, Anne recorded in her diary the events of her life in hiding. Then her family was discovered. Anne died of typhus fever in a Nazi camp. Only her father survived. In nineteen-forty-seven, Otto Frank had his daughter's writings published as a book.
"The Diary of Anne Frank" has been translated into many languages. It is one of the most widely read pieces of literature in the world.
The Holocaust Museum has a permanent collection of eight-thousand objects and a library with millions of documents.
The museum has also recorded the stories of more than seven-thousand people who lived through the Holocaust.
Plus, there is a list with the names of one-hundred-seventy-two-thousand survivors and their families. These people come from all fifty states and seventy-four countries. Many have visited the museum.
As we take a tour along three floors of the building, we travel back in time. We see how the Nazis began to mistreat Jewish people and other minorities. Movie images show how this grew and grew.
We pass by uniforms that prisoners wore in the concentration camps.
A railroad car brings to mind the trains that the Germans used to carry innocent people to slave labor or death.
In another area, shoes lie one on top of another, on top of another. Shoes of victims.
A milk container recovered in Warsaw, Poland, after the war looks as it must have sixty years ago.
But what it held were personal stories, documents and other materials about the Jewish people in the Warsaw Ghetto. The Germans crowded thousands together into an area of the Polish capital. Many starved to death or died of disease. Others lived only long enough to be sent to death camps.
Later this month, the Holocaust Museum will hold a “Days of Remembrance” observance of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. This event will honor those who rebelled against the Nazis. The rebellion began sixty years ago. Although they faced a powerful army, some survived.
An exhibit called “The Hidden History of the Kovno Ghetto ” tells about Jews in Kaunas, Lithuania. Their story was partly reconstructed from objects they, too, hid. They secretly wrote of their treatment under the German occupation. They left drawings, pictures and other artifacts. More than a half-century later, we can still hear their voices. We can still see their belongings.
Some things in the museum are not for children to see. But there are special exhibits for children.
People can also see exhibits online. Each month, three-hundred-thousand people visit the museum’s Web site. The address is u-s-h-m-m dot o-r-g (www.ushmm.org).
You can learn, for example, about the German-owned passenger ship called the Saint Louis. It left Hamburg on May thirteenth, nineteen-thirty-nine. It carried more than nine-hundred people. But these were not the usual passengers on a German ship of those days. Almost all were German Jews. They were trying to escape from their country.
At first, no nation would accept them, including the United States. Later, several European nations admitted some of the refugees. But about two-hundred people were captured and died in camps after Germany invaded those countries.
The Holocaust Museum lends some of its exhibits to other museums and to libraries, colleges and community centers around the country. One of these exhibits tells about a businessman with close ties to the Nazis. Oskar Schindler got permission to use Jewish prisoners as laborers in his factory in Poland. This saved them from the hands of the Nazis.
American director Steven Spielberg made a movie about Oskar Schindler. "Schindler's List" came out in nineteen-ninety-three.
Many people use the Holocaust Museum for study. John Wiernicki [WERE-nick-kee] is a historian who lives in the Washington area. Mister Wiernicki wrote a book called “War in the Shadow of Auschwitz.” The Nazis used that camp, built in the Polish village of Oswiecim, to kill more than one-million people from across Europe.
John Wiernicki was a teen-ager in Poland when the Nazis arrived in his homeland in nineteen-thirty-nine. He joined the Polish Home Army, a resistance group. In nineteen-forty-three, Mister Wiernicki -- who is not Jewish -- was arrested and sent to Auschwitz.
Later the Germans moved him to Buchenwald-Ohrdruf, another camp. He escaped while on work duty in the forest. Today, a museum photograph of that camp shows Allied soldiers who freed the surviving prisoners. The soldiers are looking at the many bodies of the dead.
John Wiernicki says he could not have written his book without his research at the museum. He says the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum helps people learn about a time that nobody should ever forget.
Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Caty Weaver. I’m Steve Ember.
And I’m Doug Johnson. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA