By LYNDON ZAITZ
I went to Los Angeles last week for some sunshine and warmth. There wasn’t much of that but I did come away thoughtful. I wanted to visit several art museums that weekend but all had lines out the door due to free admission Saturday. I eschewed art and embraced history.
My friend and I headed for the Museum of Tolerance on the west side. Though most visitors seek the entertainment southern California has to offer, a visit to this museum should be required.
In addition to the regular displays was a Anne Frank exhibition. We all think we know the story, Dutch girl, hiding in an attic, captured, killed by the Nazis. Some of that is true, other points not so much—she and her sister Margot died of ill health while in a camp, two weeks before it was liberated by the Allies.
Before we walked through the Anne Frank exhibit we viewed dozens of videos, displays and writings that addressed intolerance, not just against Jews but all people—blacks, Muslims, you name it.
All the exhibits at the museum are powerful and as thought-provoking as it is meant to be. Only the most entrenched bigot can walk out of that museum without feeling a bit ashamed about how they treated someone who was different at some point. The museum is not political correctness runamok, it is a profound statement about humanity and how respect and dignity are key to achieving peace.
Much of the main exhibition space is devoted to the Holocaust—how Adolph Hilter rose to power. He was elected Chancellor by the people in 1933 by playing on the German people’s anger at their lot after World War I; he and the Nazis played all of Germany’s ills on the Jews.
There are videos of Kristallnacht (the night shops owned by Jews were looted and destroyed by the National Socialist Party with the support of Aryan Germans). There are displays of artifacts fashioned in concentration camps by imprisoned Jews for their religious rites. It is all very sobering. And scary. Scary to realize what man does to man for reasons many don’t understand to this day.
There are many photographs of the small children rounded up with their parents and sent off to work or concentration camps. Beautiful little children whose only crime was they were born Jewish. The mass operation of wiping Jews off the face of the earth resulting in the Final Solution.
Going through the Anne Frank exhibit I was struck by the maturity of this 13-year-old girl who wrote so beautifully. She was a prolific writer, sending letters to her cousins and of course her diary. She wrote of her daily life (before and after she and her family hid in that attic) in a way that puts you right there.
The most amazing aspect of my visit to the museum was a chance meeting with Angelina. At first I thought she was just another museum visitor, sitting down and taking a rest. Angelina, 88, is a survivor. A German Jew, she was sent to a camp in Estonia at the age of seven. She never saw her family again and herself had been sent to seven different camps.
Angelina was spry and well-spoken. I could have talked with her for hours but I only shared a few minutes with her. Before me was a living reminder of modern history’s most tragic events.
There were many students touring the museum that day. I asked one boy what he thought of the museum and he said it was neat. I told him the same thing is happening today in a place called Syria (of which he had never heard). My parting words to that one boy was to pay attention to the world, be informed.
A visit to the museum may not be southern California fun, but it is southern California necessary.
(Lyndon Zaitz is publisher of the Keizertimes.)