Holocaust Museum teaches warning signs of genocide

(Above) Holocaust Museum, Washington (© AP Images)

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has a dual mission: to remember the millions of Jews and other victims of Nazi genocide and to confront hatred and prevent genocides today.

Its staff includes international human rights lawyers and scholars who have long studied how Adolf Hitler came to power and harnessed the machinery of the state to commit murder on a massive scale.

Nearly 40 million people have visited the Washington museum since its 1993 opening. Twelve percent come from abroad. Ninety percent are not Jewish. Few who view the collections — a wooden railroad car that carried Jews to the concentration camps, decayed leather shoes collected before victims entered gas chambers, and pictures of mobile killing squads, corpses and emaciated prisoners — leave unmoved.

Civic and religious leaders, elected officials, members of the military, educators and journalists from scores of countries take part in seminars and peer-to-peer discussions on recognizing early warning signs of genocide. Many attend through the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program.

Refugee woman and child walking toward makeshift hut in desert camp (© AP Images)
Holocaust Museum educational programs examine the plights of people affected by recent conflicts. (© AP Images)

Since 1999 some 100,000 law enforcement officers, 46,000 members of the military and nearly 16,000 judges from around the world have studied how so many were willing to carry out commands to kill innocent civilians, said Jennifer Ciardelli, who directs Holocaust Museum civic and defense initiatives.

Tad Stahnke directs an initiative focusing on anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, with the aim of raising “the level of discourse” on these issues. It publishes materials in several languages.

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”


Peter Fredlake, who works with educators, said visitors often arrive with a simplistic narrative “of evil Nazis, almost too perfect victims and saintly rescuers. We want the Holocaust Museum to be a mirror to say, ‘This tells me something about my own behaviors and the history of the country I live in. Let’s talk about that.'”