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Book Reviews


How the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum changed my life


Posted in: Blog - Blog Published On Apr 09 2013 Written by Dr. Michael Berenbaum


My daughter, Ilana, then a young college student, asked if she could go with me to the opening of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, on April 22, 1993 (the date was tied to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising’s 50th anniversary). I said: “I will be leaving very early.” She responded: “I’ll be up.”


I couldn’t wait to get to the museum that morning. First of all, my home was in chaos. My sister and brother-in-law were in from Israel for the occasion. My mother came up from Florida. A couple of days before, they’d had an automobile accident, and, as a result, my mother was in a wheelchair. More importantly, the opening of the museum, which once seemed so far away, had finally arrived. I felt like a bridegroom on his wedding day or an expectant father after 14 years of gestation, filled with joy and anticipation, anxiety and excitement, even a bit of fear.


Ilana, for her part, was normally allergic to mornings. In those days, the only way she would be up at 6 a.m. was if she had pulled an all-nighter. But true to her word, she was ready to go. Then, no sooner had she gotten into the car, she turned to me and said: “It is time to quit.”




What the Survivor and Historian Know


Posted in: Blog - Blog Published On May 30 2012 Written by Dr. Michael Berenbaum


Detente Between Those Who Lived the Shoah and Study It


Jeff Cohen’s The Soap Myth as produced by the National Jewish Theater Foundation and directed by Arnold Mittleman has brought to life on the New York stage the inherent tensions between Holocaust historians and Holocaust survivors over facts and interpretation of facts. Time and again survivors speak of the Nazi’s making human fat into soap and Holocaust historians say that at best there is insufficient evidence to support that claim. When I was Project Director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum during its creation, I rejected the display of a cake of soap. So too did my colleagues at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem or at Auschwitz and Majdanek in Poland. Rather than go into the minutiae of detail regarding the soap, it is worthwhile to consider the relationship between survivor testimony and historical fact.


Elie Wiesel, the preeminent survivor, set the bar impossibly high. “Only those who were there will ever know, and those who were there can never tell.” Survivors’ testimony was privileged. They alone could know. Nothing could be said by my generation, born after the war; what could we know?



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