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April 2, 2012

Punishment for a Romanian Holocaust denier: a trip to the US Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC

According to a recent news article which you can read in full here, Romanian congressman Dan Sova will be punished for “denying pro-Nazi dictator Ion Antonescu’s responsibility in the Holocaust.”  As part of his punishment, Sova will be sent to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.

Specifically, Sova said that “historical data show that a total of 24 Jews were killed during the Iași pogrom by the German army.”    I am not familiar with this “pogrom” but I am guessing that Sova minimized the horror of a German war crime in which more than 24 Jews were killed.

I don’t recall that the exhibits at the USHMM give the details of this little-known pogrom in Romania, a country that was an ally of Nazi Germany in World War II.  The exhibits at the USHMM are slanted toward American high school students who are the main visitors, and only the highlights of the Holocaust are presented.

According to Wikipedia, “In Romania, Emergency Ordinance No. 31 of March 13, 2002 prohibits Holocaust denial. It was ratified on May 6, 2006. The law also prohibits racist, fascist, xenophobic symbols, uniforms and gestures: proliferation of which is punishable with imprisonment from between six months to five years.”

Dan Sova is getting off lightly — he could have been put on trial for breaking the Romanian law against Holocaust denial and sentenced to five years in prison.  Instead, he will be forced to see the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. I doubt that Dan Sova will be reading my blog, but I am going to give a description of the USHMM so that potential visitors will know what to expect.

I spent two days at the USHMM in April 2000.  The exhibits might have changed since then, but I am sure that the building is the same.

Close-up of sculpture at 15th Street entrance to US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC

The US Holocaust Memorial Museum is located in the heart of America’s capital city, Washington, DC, just off the Capitol Mall. The photo above shows the entrance on 15th Street. The main entrance is on the other side of the building on 14th Street.  I don’t know what the piece of sculpture represents, but it looks like a smashed swastika to me.

The brick courtyard in front of the 15th Street entrance to the USHMM, shown in the photo below, is named Eisenhower Plaza in honor of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe, who commanded the invasion on the beaches of Normandy, which subsequently led to the liberation of the Jews from the Nazi concentration camps in Germany.

View of USHMM from courtyard on 15th Street

A two-part modern sculpture entitled Loss and Regeneration, designed by Jewish artist Joel Shapiro, who was born in America in 1941, stands in the courtyard with one section near the sidewalk, and the other part near the door to the museum, as shown in the photo above.

The abstract black figures symbolize the destruction of European Jewry and the regeneration of the Jews. The first section of the sculpture is a house which has been tipped over and is now balanced precariously on the tip of one end of the peaked roof, symbolizing the loss of Jewish homes when the Nazis destroyed the shtetls, as the Jewish villages in Poland were called.

House in Tykocin, a Jewish shtetl in Poland

A plaque, dedicated to the 1.5 million Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust, is on the ground near the uprooted house; it is engraved with a poem found in 1945, written by a child in the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic). It was probably written in German or Yiddish, but the words on the plaque are in English:

Until, after a long, long time
I’d be well again
Then I’d like to live
And go back home again.  

West side of USHMM has several features reminiscent of the Auschwitz death camp

The photo above shows the facade of the Museum building, which faces Eisenhower Plaza. It has several features which suggest places associated with the Holocaust. Sticking up on the left side of the building is what looks like the tower on top of the red brick gatehouse building at Birkenau, the infamous death camp where the Jews were gassed. The Birkenau gatehouse tower is shown in the photo below. There are actually four of these tower-like rooms on the north side of the building; on the first floor of the Museum, these rooms contain the Daniel’s Story exhibit.

15th Street entrance to USHMM resembles the gatehouse tower at Auschwitz-Birkenau

To the right of the tower at the USHMM is a glass enclosed walkway which looks somewhat like the open wooden walkways which were put over some of the streets of the Warsaw and Lodz ghettos in Poland so that non-Jews could pass through the ghetto on the streetcar, or walk on the street below without having to come in contact with the Jews. There are two more glass walkways on the 15th Street side of the building on the third and second floors. The Nazis allegedly isolated the Polish Jews in walled ghettos because they believed that the Jews were carriers of contagious diseases.

There are three other glass walkways which cross the top of the USHMM building, but they appear to be merely part of the design and not functional. These walkways connect the two sides of the building which are separated by a central atrium that is four stories high and covered by a skylight. From these walkways, visitors can look down below at the main floor, called the Hall of Witness, which is shown in the photo below. The museum building has five floors above ground and a basement below; the basement level is called the Concourse.

The main floor of the USHMM is the “Hall of Witness” Photo Credit: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mkli/washington_dc.htm

The interior of the US Holocaust Museum was planned to integrate the architectural design with the exhibits. The “Hall of Witness,” as the main floor is called, is a huge atrium with a skylight that is four stories high. The huge skylight was deliberately designed to be off center and skewed, so as to convey to the visitor the impression that he has entered a world of madness where nothing makes sense. Likewise, the stairs were deliberately designed so that they are not at right angles to the wall. The whole effect suggests chaos and disorder, and gives the viewer an idea of what the victims experienced emotionally.   

A lighted glass stripe cuts across the floor of the Hall of Witness, but it is at a slight angle, as is everything in the room. Nothing is lined up straight with the walls; everything is out of kilter so you get the subtle suggestion that something is not quite right here. The stairs to the second floor, at one end of the Hall of Witness, look like a ladder in a picture which appears to be smaller at the top.

At the top of the stairs in the Hall of Witness is a gentle arch which is an exact duplicate of the arch over the doorway of the brick gatehouse, through which the trains rolled into the death camp at Birkenau in Poland.

Arch over Birkenau gatehouse was reproduced in Hall of Witness at the USHMM

Some critics have complained that the USHMM is “in the shadow of the Washington Monument.”  Not true — as the photo below shows.

Courtyard of the 15th St. entrance to USHMM with Washington Monument in the background.  Ross Center is on the right

In the photo above, you are looking at the corner of Raoul Wallenberg Place and Independence Avenue (the street which forms the southern border of the park-like Capital Mall). The old traditional style red brick building is called the Ross Center; it houses the administrative offices of the museum and the museum cafe, but this is not the Museum.

The Ross center is named after Eric F. Ross whose parents, Albert and Regina Rosenberg, died in Auschwitz in 1942. The back of the Ross Center building is on Independence Avenue while the entrance faces a brick-paved courtyard in front of the 15th street entrance to the USHMM, which is set back from the street. From the courtyard, there is a perfect view of the Washington Monument, as seen in the photograph above.

The massive USHMM building, designed by Jewish architect James Ingo Freed, was built on a 1.9 acre site where another building was torn down. It took 8 years to complete, at a cost of $168 million. At the ground-breaking ceremony on October 16, 1985, soil from some of the Nazi concentration camps in Europe was mixed with the soil at the site.

14th Street entrance to USHMM with Washington Monument in the background

The photograph above shows the 14th Street entrance on the east side of the museum on the left, and the red brick building which stands next to the Ross center on Independence Avenue on the right. In the center of the photo, you can see the Washington Monument, which is just behind the Ross Center.

The USHMM is the only modern structure in this part of the city of Washington, DC, where all the other buildings feature classic architecture with Greek columns or traditional 19th century details. Neo-Classical architecture was the style favored by the world’s most famous amateur architect, Adolf Hitler, so that was not an option for America’s national Holocaust museum. The result is that the museum seems out of place, like a little Victorian house that is now surrounded by modern office buildings.

Brick towers on the side of US Holocaust Museum

The building material used for the exterior of the museum is a combination of red brick and granite; the brick is on the side of the building that is next to an existing red brick building, and the other side, next to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, is made of granite blocks. The front entrance on 14th Street, shown in the photo above, is granite.

The pattern of the bricks on the towers, shown on the right side of the building in the photo above, resembles the red brick buildings at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland and also the brick wall of the Warsaw ghetto in Poland. Inside the museum, there is a reproduction of the last remaining section of the ghetto wall at 55 Sienna Street in Warsaw, so you can compare the pattern.

Pattern of the bricks used at the USHMM is the same pattern as the bricks in the buildings at Auschwitz

Gray is the predominant color inside the USHMM, which is decorated to look like a very drab prison.

The wall just inside the entrance is curved, a continuation of the half circle on the outside of the building. On the next two floors, a pie-shaped section of this circle forms rest stops with gray covered benches. The elevator to the fifth-floor research library is right next to the benches, and the door to the museum shop is near the elevator. If you plan to use the fifth-floor library, be advised that there are surveillance cameras and you must surrender all  backpacks and purses at the door.

As you look around the interior curved wall, you will see the flags of the 20 divisions of American soldiers who liberated the Nazi concentration camps. Upstairs in the permanent exhibit, the word “encountered” is used for how the concentration camps were discovered, but here the word is “liberated,” even though some of the camps had already been abandoned before the Americans arrived, and the Germans surrendered the rest without a fight.

Past the flags, you walk straight ahead down a hallway which has an array of overhead lights enclosed in a metal mesh covering. Could this wire mesh be symbolic of the columns in the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau into which the Zyklon B gas pellets were poured?

The walls of the interior of the museum are painted battleship gray. The floor is mauve marble. In a building that is not intended to be beautiful, the hallway light fixture is the only attractive design feature.

The permanent exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC has the world’s largest collection of Holocaust photographs and artifacts, displayed on three floors of the museum, covering 36,000 square feet. Visitors are allowed to take their own self-guided tour and spend as much time as they want looking at the 2,500 photographs and 900 artifacts. The exhibit includes 70 video monitors, 30 interactive stations and 3 video projection theaters.

There are no tour guides leading large groups and disturbing the quiet contemplation of the other visitors. The exhibits are in chronological order, beginning with the Nazi rise to power in 1933 and ending with the founding of Eretz Israel in 1948.

Each of the three floors of the exhibit has a theme, starting with The Nazi Assault – 1933 – 1939 on the fourth floor, moving on to The Final Solution – 1940 – 1945 on the third floor and ending with The Last Chapter on the second floor. To see the whole exhibit requires at least one to three hours.

According to the museum’s designer, “the primary purpose is to communicate concepts,” not just to display objects. At the end of the tour, visitors must enter the 6,000 square foot Hall of Remembrance, which has 6 sides symbolizing the 6-point Star of David, and the 6 death camps where 6 million Jews were murdered by the Nazis.

Inside the Hall of Remembrance at the USHMM

As you enter from the 14th Street entrance and walk down the hallway on the main floor, the first place you come to on the left-hand side is the room where the elevators to the permanent exhibit are located. To your right in this room is a table with a box of 500 different booklets, which look vaguely like passports, with the museum logo printed on the cover. Each visitor is asked to select a passport, which has the name and picture of a real person who experienced the Holocaust. As you proceed through the exhibit, you are supposed to turn the pages in the booklet to find out what happened to this person, whose identity you have assumed. I visited the museum twice on two successive days so I got two passports. I did not see any place to turn in these booklets at the end of the tour, so I assume that they were intended to be souvenirs.

My first passport person was a Czech Jewish child whose parents moved to Belgium before the War. She survived by getting false papers and pretending to be non-Jewish; after the war she emigrated to the United States. (Her story parallels that of America’s former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.)

My passport person on the second day was a Polish Catholic, born in 1893, who made her living as a school teacher. She became a resistance fighter soon after Germany defeated Poland in 1939, and was arrested for hiding a Jewish family. She was sent to the women’s camp at Ravensbrück in Germany, and then to Bergen-Belsen where she survived, although she was sick with typhus. After recovering from typhus in Sweden, she returned to her home town in Poland, where she died a natural death years later.

There are three elevators, with interiors made of cold hard steel, and a group of visitors enters every few minutes, reminiscent of the Jews entering the gas chamber; the doors close automatically and the elevator rises to the fourth floor. Before getting on the elevator, the visitors are asked to face the back wall where there is a small video monitor overhead, playing a film clip which shows scenes from the American liberation of the camps in Germany, as we hear a voice telling about the discovery of one of the camps, probably Buchenwald. The attendant told us that the voice is that of a famous person, but she would not tell us who it was. My guess was General George S. Patton, commander of the troops that liberated Buchenwald.

When the film clip ends, the elevator doors open automatically, and there is a collective gasp of horror from the occupants as they are confronted with a huge floor-to-ceiling photograph, about 9 feet wide. A copy of this photo is shown below.

This photo hangs at the entrance to the USHMM exhibits

The photo shows American soldiers viewing a cremation pyre at Ohrdruf on April 13, 1945.

The caption on the photo at the Museum says that this was “the Ohrdruf concentration camp,” which is a misnomer, because Ohrdruf was a forced labor camp and a subcamp of Buchenwald, which was the nearest concentration camp. The corpses are identified in the USHMM caption as “prisoners,” not Jews, because not all of the forced laborers in this camp were Jewish. The placement of this photograph is designed to give visitors the same shock that our troops got when they first saw the camps. It also gives Americans a feeling of pride that our soldiers fought and died to liberate the Nazi camps before Hitler could complete “the Final Solution.”

The movie shows some of the German guards at Dachau, with their hands in the air, including a young blond, blue-eyed boy who faces the camera with a look of complete terror on his face. The film does not show the surrendering German guards being shot by American soldiers, or beaten to death by the prisoners, or the bodies of the dead guards piled up in front of the crematorium. These introductory photographs and films are intended to immediately make American visitors to the museum feel proud of their country’s role in freeing the Jews, not show the war crimes committed by American soldiers.

The fourth floor is supposed to be devoted to the years before the Holocaust started, but the exhibit starts off with this enormous photo taken at Ohrdruf near the end of the war and right next to it is a large color photograph of an inmate of Dachau after the American liberation of that camp. Next is a movie screen which continuously shows some color footage of the Dachau camp filmed after the liberation on April 29, 1945 by Lt. Col. George Stevens, who was already a noted Hollywood director at the time. He later directed the movie Diary of Anne Frank.

From there, the exhibit moves on to show what it was like in Germany when the Nazis first came to power. Nazi marching music is playing in the background, and video monitors show the torch-light parades through the Brandenburg gate in Berlin, young blond girls giving the Sieg Heil salute to Hitler at the annual party rally in Nuremberg, and Hitler waving to his screaming admirers after his appointment as Chancellor. A large photograph of a Storm Trooper holding a vicious German Sheppard wearing a muzzle is featured in a section titled “The terror begins.” In a display case is a brown Storm Trooper uniform with a red, white and black Swastika arm band.

In my opinion, this section on the Nazi rise to power does not adequately convey the German nationalism and patriotism, nor the hatred of Communism. I overheard a man standing next to me say that “someone should have just shot Hitler.” Obviously, the display did not get across to him that in the 1930s, the majority of the German people loved and supported Hitler, or that the Germans equated Judaism with Bolshevism, which was their word for Communism.

The Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles has a much better exhibit on the depth of anti-Semitism in Germany and the street fighting between the Nazis and the Reds, as the Communists were also called. The exhibit at the USHMM gives the impression that it all started with the Nazi party, and does not explain that anti-Semitism was inexorably building up throughout Europe, starting as early as 1881 with the assassination of Czar Alexander I, which the Russians blamed on the Jews.

There were photographs of the German boycott of Jewish stores on April 1, 1933, and the caption mentioned that “there was talk of an American boycott of German goods” but didn’t say whether this boycott ever happened. Actually, an American boycott of German goods had been declared by Rabbi Stephen Wise on March 23, 1945, the same day that the German Congress voted to give Hitler dictatorial powers under the Enabling Act. The German one-day boycott was intended to stop the news stories of Nazi atrocities which were being printed in Jewish newspapers.

Although there are some small items on display, most of the artifacts throughout the museum are large objects which really command your attention. As the tour proceeds, these large artifacts gradually overwhelm the visitor with their visual impact. For example, the first large artifact that I saw, near the start of the fourth floor exhibit, was a glass case with a punch card sorting machine and a Hollerith tabulating machine used to count punch cards. Both of these machines were forerunners of the computer and were used by the Germans, who were technically very advanced, to keep track of the Jews who were deported to the concentration camps. Unfortunately, the Hollerith machine has been removed.

The exhibit area is dark and only the items on display are lighted; most of the visitors inched their way past the displays in numbed silence both times when I was there. The whole permanent exhibit is done in a low-key serious vein, befitting a serious subject, not like the glitzy extravaganza at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles which uses elaborate displays of dummies, and gimmicks that give a Disneyland quality to the museum there. The exhibits at the USHMM are simple and easy to understand.

On the main floor of the USHMM is an exhibit for children, called Daniel’s Story.  I saw this exhibit twice in 2000 and wrote about it here on my website.

Wall of photos in the US Holocaust Museum Photo Credit: USHMM

Some visitors might not agree with some of the information given at the museum.  For example, the USHMM says that Germany invaded the Soviet Union because the Germans wanted Lebensraum. Dan Sova will get a chance to learn the Jewish version of history, so that he will not commit any more crimes of Holocaust denial.

8 Comments

  1. Thanks for this blog post. I had always thought that I wanted to see the USHMM, so I would know just what was there and how they presented it. But I had come to realize I would find it too revolting, that there was really nothing to see except even worse than what is at the concentration camp memorials in Europe. Now you have really sewn up the case for me … I would not want to even step on the plaza outside of those sick-looking buildings, let along expose myself to what is inside. Goulish is the word for it. Sick, sick, sick.

    Comment by Sceptic — April 6, 2012 @ 6:01 pm

    • I have added a link to a description of the Daniel’s Story exhibit which I saw in the year 2000. This exhibit might have been updated in the 12 years since I first saw it. This exhibit is for children who visit the USHMM; children as young as six can learn about the Holocaust at the USHMM. Even babies can be carried into the Museum.

      Comment by furtherglory — April 7, 2012 @ 7:41 am

  2. The March issue of Smith’s Report contains an investigation into the story of the “Bucharet pogrom” of January 19-21, 1941 during which 200-2,000 Jews (the number varies with each repetition of this grisly story) were made to get down on their hands and knees and climb up a ramp into the municipal abattoir where they were clubbed to death by Romanian legionnaires (Iron Guardists) and their bodies vivisected and hung on hooks with signs on them reading “Kosher meat.” http://www.codoh.com/newsite/sr/online/sr_190.pdf

    I possess a Xerox copy of a drawing of four of these corpses hanging upside down in the Bucharest abattoir by the Romanian artist/architect Marcel Janco. It’s from a 1990 exhibition catalog for a show of his entitled On the Edge, Drawings of the Holocaust presented at the Museum of Bet Lohamei Haghetaot in Tel Aviv. The introduction includes some writing of Janco’s from l941 in which he describes hundreds more Jewish corpses scattered about in the forest of Jilava “all subjected to desecration” and many of the bodies raped in a frenzy of Christian vengeance.

    Comment by who dares wings — April 3, 2012 @ 3:21 pm

  3. The USHMM aka Minas Morgul.
    http://scrapbook.theonering.net/scrapbook/view/9810

    “… in Banila pe Siret “only” a few were killed, but they were cut to pieces so that the axles of carts could be smeared with their blood”

    “July 5, 1941 In Banila pe Siret, local residents, led by Mayor Mocaliuc and a certain Barbaza, killed 15 Jews, among them M. Satran, an eighty-year-old blind man, Iacob Fleischer and Iacob Brecher together with his daughter. Brecher’s body was cut into pieces, and his blood was smeared on the axles of carriages.”

    Oy vey.

    Holocaust in Romania, Facts & Documents On The Annihilation Of Romania’s Jews 1940-1944
    by the General Secretary of the Association of Romanian Jews, Matatias Carp. p.22 & 166

    Click to access carp.pdf

    Comment by The Black Rabbit of Inlé — April 2, 2012 @ 6:06 pm

    • Thanks for providing the pdf document. I read through it and came upon this quote:

      Begin Quote:
      The exact number of the victims of the pogrom in Iasi will never be
      known. Even if this figure did not reach 12,000, as is believed by many, it
      is definitely over half of this number. During the trial, the number was put
      at 8,000.
      End Quote

      So Dan Sova was way off when he said that 24 people had been killed in the pogrom. He deserves his punishment: a trip to the US Holocaust Museum.

      Comment by furtherglory — April 2, 2012 @ 6:35 pm

      • It is a rather strange punishment. An expenses paid trip to DC—just to shuffle round the United States Holocaust Minas Morgul for an hour.

        I’m inclined to believe the 8,000 figure has the same basis in reality as the chunks of Jew used as lubricant applicant.

        Comment by The Black Rabbit of Inlé — April 3, 2012 @ 7:41 am

        • I also thought that it was strange to sentence him, without a trial, to go to Washington, DC to see the Holocaust Museum. Why not send him to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Israel? I am assuming that part of his punishment is that he will have to pay for the trip himself.

          The USHMM does not go into detail; it is mainly a museum for high school kids. I did not see anyone, that I could identify as Jewish, when I was there for two days. The USHMM is for indoctrination of the goyim, but Dan Sova will not learn anything at the museum about the 8,000 Jews who were killed in a pogrom in Romania.

          Comment by furtherglory — April 3, 2012 @ 9:39 am

          • I visited the British version of the USHMM, the permanent Holocaust Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London about 2 years ago.

            I’ve not got it to hand, but I wrote down all the information they had on the AH camps, where 1.5 – 2m Jews were supposedly killed, it was as single paragraph, perhaps 100 words, embossed on a sign.

            It’s the last place you should go to learn about the Holocaust.

            Comment by The Black Rabbit of Inlé — April 3, 2012 @ 11:18 am


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