United States Holocaust Museum Is In a Race Against Time

25 Dec 2014

“Our generation has one moment in time to safeguard truth,” emphasized Sara Bloomfield, director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C in a video of the Museum’s initiative to rescue the evidence of the Holocaust.

As anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial rise around the world, including in the lands where the Holocaust occurred, the Museum is in a race against time to identify and preserve this evidence before it is too late.

“We’re losing the eyewitness generation,” noted Michael Grunberger, director of collections at the Museum. “We need to capture those stories and collect those materials, because each of these artifacts tells a story and those stories really are the building blocks of what we do as an educational institution.”

The Museum depends on its collection of artifacts, documents, photographs, films, music, and oral testimonies to stand as evidence of what happened and to teach the lessons of the Holocaust.

Specifically, the Museum seeks to preserve and make available original materials from survivors and their heirs who were displaced, persecuted, or discriminated against by the Nazis and their collaborators between 1933 and 1945.

“The Holocaust was a worldwide event and we need to be able to tell that story from every angle—whether it’s the victims, the perpetrators, the bystanders—we need to be able to document every aspect of that story from every perspective,” elaborated Bloomfield. “All these materials are in a state of natural deterioration; if we don’t collect it, we lose it.”

The Museum has collected from 50 countries, across six continents. Its collection estimated to double within the next decade.

In order to house the new collection, the Museum is raising funds to build a $40 million state-of-the-art collections and conservation center to preserve these materials for all time.

Irv Shapell, of the David and Fela Shapell Family Foundation who are leading supporters of the collection and conservation center, emphasized, “If you don’t have evidence to support the memory, the memory changes over time. It withers slowly and in the end you’re left with some sort of legend. You have some vague idea of what might have happened. It opens the door to denial. The holocaust happened. The holocaust produced a great deal of evidence.”

The Shapell Family Foundation are also longtime supporters of NCSY Summer Programs, including The Anne Samson Jerusalem Journey, popularly known as TJJ.

The Shapell Collections and Conservation Center will include highly specialized laboratories, equipment, and climate-controlled environments to preserve the wide variety of media and artifacts in the Museum’s vast collection. The Museum faces the challenge that much of the collection comes from that which is produced on highly perishable material in and of itself. Beyond preservation, the Museum works to make everything in its collection accessible to the public.

“With such an assault on the truth of the Holocaust, we must digitize everything and put it up on the internet so that it’s available to anyone, anywhere, any time,” Sara Bloomfield said.

With the passing of survivors and the eyewitness generation, these precious artifacts will serve in perpetuity as the silent witnesses to the truth about the Holocaust.  With each passing day, the mission of Holocaust Memorial Museum to disseminate the truth about the Holocaust grows more urgent.

For more information please contact a curator at the Museum at curator@ushmm.org.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.