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April 25, 2003 - Image 74

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-04-25

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Arts Entertainment

Yom HaShoah

Decade Of Achievement

As Shoah museum marks 10 years, organizers' initial fears are long gone.

ELI KINTISCH
Jewish Telegraphic Agency

A

decade ago, on the eve of
the opening of the U.S.
Holocaust Memorial
Museum in Washington,
D.C., organizers had no idea how the
museum would be received by the
general public.
Focus groups had been ambivalent.
Experts recommended downsizing the
building to accommodate smaller
crowds.
Organizers feared that Jews would
make up the bulk of the guests the
first year, and that attendance would
then dwindle.
"It was a heart-stopping mystery,"
recalls Mark Talisman, a one-time
stagehand who served as the founding
vice chairman of the organization
behind the museum. "It reminded me
in a hugely more important way of
opening night."
Now in its 10th year, it's safe to say
that worries about the museum have
long since been forgotten. The build-
ing was sold out in its first year, forc-
ing staff to scramble to create a timed
entrance system for the 2.1 million
visitors who would come through the
doors that year.
Since then, with an average of 2
million visitors per year, the museum
has become one of the top stops for
tourists, schoolchildren and digni-
taries visiting the nation's capital —
to the point where it has to turn
groups away to avoid overcrowding.
Furthermore, surveys report that
Jews make up only 28 percent of the
guests.
Ceremonies planned for this month
and June, marking the museum's first
10 years, are expected to draw digni-
taries and visitors from around the
world, as should a planned tribute for
Holocaust survivors slated for later
this year.
"It goes beyond the Jewish legacy.
It's a legacy for all," the chairman of
the U.S. Holocaust Memorial
Museum Council, Fred Zeidman,
said. "I went in yesterday. I was as
overwhelmed as the first time I went
in" 1993.
A visit to the museum shows the
building's enduring appeal. On a

4/25

2003

76

recent Saturday morning, school-
children from Illinois scrambled
through a Polish train car before
watching a survivor speaking on a
video screen.
A group of gay and lesbian students
from Maryland's Mount St. Mary's
College lingered in the hushed Hall
of Remembrance before continuing
to a new exhibit describing Nazi per-
secution of homosexuals.
African-American children wan-
dered through "Daniel's Story,"
the first-floor children's exhib-
it.
Travis Miller, a Texas-born
cadet from the U.S. Naval
Academy, walked out from the
main exhibit with his grand--
parents, Debbie and . Lawrence
Boy.
"I've been here three times,"
Miller said. "I had to bring my
grandparents."
"It's a humbling experience,"
Debbie Boy said.

tion to Palestinian Authority
President Yasser Arafat to visit the
museum as a visiting dignitary.
Walter Reich, the museum's director,
refused to extend the invitation. Arafat
eventually canceled the planned visit,
and Reich soon was ousted.
That same year, Holocaust scholar
John Roth was chosen to head the
museum's Center for Advanced
Holocaust Studies. But Roth was
forced to resign before starting work

fessionalism and for the paucity of
non-Jews on the governing council.
There were whispers that the muse-
um was being run like a Jewish
organization.
Today, a handful of non-Jews,
including poet Maya Angelou, sit on
the council, though the Bush admin-
istration has yet to announce its new
appointments.
At the height of the Marc Rich
scandal, in early 2001, reporters
learned that the then-
chairman of the coun-
cil, Rabbi Irving "Yitz"
Greenberg, had written
to President Clinton on
museum stationery, ask-
ing him to pardon the
fugitive financier.
Despite months of
controversy and calls
from a number of
council members for
his resignation,
Greenberg served out
his term.

Problems Among Triumphs

For all its success, the muse-
Current Initiatives
urn's first decade has been
Zeidman, who was
plagued with controversy,
appointed by President
often related to the tension
Bush, has pledged to
between the museum's role as a
keep the museum away
Jewish institution and its
from politics and to
responsibility to the U.S. gov-
maintain focus on the
ernment.
museum's goals.
Roughly half of the muse-
Among those goals
urn's $60 million annual oper-
are education and out-
ating budget comes from fed-
reach. The museum
eral coffers, Zeidman says.
runs educational pro-
The controversies were pres-
grams for teachers
ent at the beginning.
around the country to
Republican financier Harvey
come to Washington
"Bud" Meyerhoff, a key player
and develop material
in building the museum, was
for their classes.
pushed out as chair of the
After Washington's
museum's council after refus-
police chief, Charles
Participants in. the Law Enforcement and Society Program
ing to invite then-Israeli
Ramsey, visited the
President Chaim Herzog to the sponsored by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and
museum in 1998,
the ADL tour the Washington museum.
opening ceremony in 1993.
police there began
Meyerhoff had been con-
allowing department
cerned about maintaining the
after it was discovered that he had
recruits a day of training at the
American character of the institution,
written a 1988 piece for the Los
museum. Similar programs are run
but Herzog eventually spoke at the
Angeles Times that compared Israel's
with other local police departments,
opening ceremony.
treatment of Palestinians to the Nazi
and with federal bureaus such as the
In 1998, as Israeli-Palestinian peace
treatment of Jews.
FBI and NSA.
talks continued, the museum invited
A 1999 congressional report criti-
Other efforts aim at the grass
— and then rescinded an invita-
cized the museum for its lack of pro-
roots. The museum has launched a

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