The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which opened in 1993 in Washington has the words of Elie Wiesel carved in stone at its entrance: “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”
Catholic high school teacher views an exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum during a 1998 training program for Catholic teachers. (CNS photo by Bob Roller)
Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and prolific author who died July 2 at the age of 87, was passionate about helping people not only remember atrocities but to take responsibility for them by making sure evil does not get the upper hand again.
He did this not only with his writings — most famously through “Night” — the autobiographical account of his time in concentration camps as a teenager — but also through helping found the Holocaust museum , which he envisioned as a “living memorial” to serve as a warning about the fragility of democracy and the dangers of unchecked hatred.
When the museum opened 23 years ago, Catholic News Service reported:
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum not only recounts the deaths of millions of victims of World War II, but it presents a lesson for all people, according to Jewish and Catholic leaders.
“It tells a crucial story, summing up the underside of the 20th century,” said Eugene J. Fisher, associate director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
He called the new museum’s role “extremely important” in “helping all Christians remember what can happen if we’re not extremely vigilant.”
The museum, near all the other museums along the National Mall, deserves to be visited, and perhaps Wiesel’s death is a poignant reminder of that.
I had the chance to tour it before it officially opened and wrote this for CNS:
Once inside the museum, the visitor has stepped into another world. And for the few hours it takes to see the entire exhibit, that world closes in. There are no hallways where one can escape; no opportunity to go back and forth among displays. The museum is designed to make one feel pushed along, almost forced, as were the concentration camp prisoners.
Amid the discomfort, there is also a connection with the persecuted. Visitors are immediately given a computerized identity card of a Holocaust victim who matches their own age and sex. The card includes a short biography which is updated at stations (Read More)