The Holocaust Museum of Houston has issued statements on its site about George Floyd’s death, “family separation at the U.S. border”, Texas opting out of the refugee resettlement program and rising violence toward “the Asian American and Pacific Islander Community”, as well as some Jewish issues, but no mention of attacks and violence against Jews in Israel.
Three weeks after the Simchat Torah massacres in Israel, it has yet to issue a similar statement on its own site, only on social media. The Holocaust Museum of Houston’s statements appear under its “Resources to Support Racial Equity and Justice” which includes books to read.
None of these books, such as ‘Between The World And Me’ by Ta-Nehisi Coates, who had recently signed a statement defending Hamas, ‘How To Be An Antiracist’ by Ibram X. Kendi, ‘Have Black LIves Ever Mattered?’ by Mumia Abu-Jamal, a cop killer, or ‘The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther’, as well as a book by the founders of BLM, focus on antisemitism.
The Holocaust Museum of Houston does however promote the fringe racialist conspiracy theory that the government killed Malcolm X. Many of the authors recommended by the Holocaust Museum of Houston are antisemitic or promote antisemitic figures and movements. There’s room at Houston’s Holocaust Museum for the veneration of the Black Panthers and Malcolm X, both militant haters of Jews, but not Jews.
This is in sharp contrast to the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum which issued a statement condemning the massacre and stating that, “Hamas is a self-avowed Islamic terrorist organization that has the primary goal of annihilating the Jewish nation state of Israel and we strongly affirm Israel’s right to defend itself against this heinous threat.”
The Tucson Jewish Museum and Holocaust Center had in the past issued a statement that equated George Floyd’s death to the Holocaust and announced a ‘shiva’ mourning for Floyd. It also promoted BLM materials from the anti-Israel group, T’ruah.
On Oct 23, the Holocaust Center posted a message from the head of the JCRC, Lynn Davis, about the threats of “election interference” and “election integrity”, A past message was about racial segregation in Tucson. It’s currently promoting an event about ‘banned books’. Its current exhibits include “War Crimes: The World is Watching” about Ukraine.
The Tucson Jewish Museum and Holocaust Center is watching Ukraine, but apart from a brief Instagram message that fails to mention Hamas or condemn the atrocities, only wishes for “a more just, equitable and non-violent world” is closing its eyes to the murder of over 1,400 Jews.
After weeks of silence, South Africa’s Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre and the Durban Holocaust & Genocide Centre, which works with HIAS, issued a baffling statement mourning “the loss of so many innocent lives in Israel and Palestine” and comparing it to the Rwandan genocide without mentioning the mass murder of Jews or the Holocaust.
Most Holocaust museums surveyed did issue some sort of statement about the attacks, even if it was only to retweet a message from the local Jewish federation, and sometimes only on social media, where they are less widely visible. Some issued stronger press statements on their own sites but virtually none then followed up with further updates beyond one press release.
“This is what genocide looks like: innocent Jewish people hunted, kidnapped, killed in their homes, at parties, and in the street. Hamas isn’t targeting Israelis, it’s targeting Jews,” the Florida Holocaust Museum declared. And offered multiple updates.
The Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York issued a statement saying that it “condemns the attacks carried out by Hamas on Israel, during which innocent civilians, including children and the elderly, were taken hostage” and the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center spoke out against the “barbaric aggression against Jews and the State of Israel.”
The vast majority however did not put these statements visibly up front on their sites.
In Los Angeles, the Museum of Tolerance hosted a major rally against the Hamas atrocities in which thousands of Jews gathered to listen to speakers including the museum’s CEO Rabbi Marvin Hier connect the atrocities of the Holocaust to the ravages of Hamas terrorism.
Holocaust museums have generally continued with their pre-existing programs. Traditional museums have limited their programming to exploring the history of the Holocaust while postmodern museums have put on exhibits about Ukraine, civil rights and the LGBTQ movement. Both behaviors show what is broken about Holocaust museums.
Museums robotically continuing on with commemorations of Kristallnacht without actually pausing to reflect and bring in the current attacks on Jews are violating their mission of ‘Never Again’ and museums that have displaced Jewish programming don’t even have that mission and have no reason to exist. Few Holocaust museums have managed to dynamically bridge the gap between the antisemitism crises of the past and present the way that the Museum of Tolerance has. Both types of museums treat antisemitism as part of a dead past.
Remembering the past is important and commemorating the dead is a crucial Jewish mission. It is why synagogues have plaques with little eternal flames with the names of those who have passed and some Jews hardly visit a synagogue except to recite the Kaddish prayer for the dead.
Current events, not just the Hamas massacre of Jews, but the widespread show of support for it on college campuses, in the media and in the public square, is why those museums exist. And prove that they have failed.
The silence of the Holocaust museums, their inability to pivot to dealing with the worst mass murder of Jews since the Holocaust, exposes their moral failure. Contrary to their rhetoric, the Holocaust museums and commemorations did not prepare the Jewish community for this. This did not even prepare the Holocaust museums themselves to meaningfully address the crisis.
The notion that Holocaust memorialization was a viable substitute for a deeply rooted Jewish identity, a knowledge of authentic Judaism and for collective Jewish security, has utterly failed. Kristallnacht exhibits are important, but without the context of a larger Jewish identity, can just as easily be exploited by indoctrinated teenagers to argue that Israelis are the new Nazis.
The most meaningful responses to the Holocaust are not to reduce it to dry history or to universalize it, but to hold on to the Jewish culture and life that the Nazis sought to destroy, and to learn the lessons of that past in order to prepare for the next wave of attacks. The two most meaningful responses to the Holocaust were not to be found in museums, but in the revival of traditional Judaism in America and the rebirth of the State of Israel. These ‘particularistic’ elements rejected by liberal Jews have long since proven their worth by building a Jewish future. Holocaust commemorations are important, but they are no substitute for a Jewish life.
The silence of some Holocaust museums and the refusal of most others to place the events of the High Holy Day Massacres at the top of their calendar is an institutional indictment.
Jews have spent far too long building museums when we should have been building a future.