Touring Holocaust exhibit brings message of tolerance to Modesto mall

Touring Holocaust exhibit brings message of tolerance to Modesto mall

By Sue Nowicki

February 04, 2012 06:18:14 PM


Six million Jews plus millions of political prisoners, Gypsies, disabled people and other "undesirables" were killed by the Nazis from 1933 to 1945.


Forty-two panels of the Holocaust, an educational exhibit put together by the Museum of Tolerance, will be on display at Vintage Faire Mall from Wednesday through Feb. 21. An opening ceremony will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday, featuring stories from Holocaust survivors and liberators who will attend, followed by the official opening of the event at 5.


Parents should be aware that some of the photos are graphic and not suitable for children 10 and under, said Alfred Balitzer, chairman for the Foundation of California, which put the traveling exhibit together. The photos are "not graphic in the sense that you see mangled bodies, although there are some graphic images," he said. "Hopefully, parents will use some discretion."


But the exhibit is important, he added. "Knowing about the Holocaust is as vital today as it was after the Second World War," he said. "Unfortunately, we've seen genocides in the world again — the slaughter in Rwanda and the killing fields in Cambodia. With anti-Semitism on the rise again, the Holocaust (exhibit) is needed. Holocaust-denial feeds the education of terrorists."


The exhibit's first panel underscores his words: "Racial hatred, economic crises, human psychological and moral flaws, the complacency or complicity of ordinary individuals in the persecution of their neighbors are still ominously common. Thus we must have the courage to remember and study the Holocaust, no matter how disturbing these studies and memories may be. For only informed, understanding, and morally committed individuals can prevent such persecution from happening again."


Christians, who often are strong supporters of modern Israel, come in for their share of blame in the Holocaust exhibit: "The emergence of Christianity as the dominant religion in Europe intensified the persecution of Jews. ... Jews were seen as outcasts, the deniers and 'killers' of Christ. For millions of European Christians, for over 1,600 years, the hatred and persecution of Jews was religiously sanctioned."


There also is a quote from Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf in 1924: "So I believe that I act in the spirit of the Almighty God: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord."


The panels describe the frightening acceleration of anti-Semitism in Germany. By 1933, the Jews were mostly urban, educated Germans who participated in the political and economic life of the country. But that year, they were banned from holding civil and university positions; by 1935, their German citizenship had been stripped; in 1937, theBuchenwald concentration camp opened.


The exhibit isn't just about the persecution and deaths of Jews. One exhibit says: "In 1940-41, special liquidation centers were established throughout Germany to eliminate the mentally or chronically ill. In these centers the first hermetically sealed gas chambers were developed. These deadly chambers, disguised as showers, were the prototypes for the mass extermination chambers later used in the Nazi extermination camps."


One panel notes that on Dec. 8, 1941, the day after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the Chelmno (Kulmhof) extermination camp began operations. By April 1943, 340,000 Jews and 20,000 Poles and Czechs were killed there. Another panel tells of the slaughter of orthodox Serbs in Yugoslavia by the Croatians, who vowed to "clean our country" of Jews and Serbs.


The exhibit also shows photos of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, of Hitler and his staff visiting Paris' famed Eiffel Tower in 1940, of ghettos where Jews were forced into squalor and disease-ridden lives, of individuals such as Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews, and panels of the liberation of prisoners from the concentration camps in 1945.


But the display is clear that liberation didn't mean an immediate happy ending for the Jews, many of whom remained in "displaced persons" (DP) camps for several years:


"Over 35 million people had died in World War II, over half of them civilians. One out of every 22 Russians was killed; one out of every 25 Germans; one out of every 150 Italians; one out of every 200 Frenchmen. But in the Nazis' war against the Jews, two out of every three European Jews had been murdered. Any hope for rebirth seemed distant in 1945."


The creation of the state of Israel helped give Jewish survivors a place to go: "On Nov. 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly, by an overwhelming majority, recommended the partition of Palestine. And onMay 14, 1948, the state of Israel was born. ... By 1951, more than half of the Jewish 'DPs' had emigrated to the new state of Israel."


The final panel in the exhibit shows the faces of children with these words:


"It requires courage to remember the Holocaust: to squarely face the images of such remorseless evil; to ache for the unconsoled grief of children and parents; to experience the emptiness and loss; to read the unimaginable testimonies to the twisted, vicious inventiveness of the human mind; to move into that shadow of doubt that the Holocaust continues to cast across the morality of all people and nations.


"But if the lost lives of these millions are to have an enduring meaning, we must remember and be vigilant. Then the ashes and unmarked graves of these victims can become the sanctified ground from which human hope, tolerance and moral courage will rise."


Doug Hyatt, a Modesto businessman and member of Congregation Beth Shalom, said he hopes the exhibit will create "tolerance for one another. There is so much anger in the world today. Extremism could lead to the consequences that the Jews in Europe faced, beginning in 1933. As the saying goes, if you forget history, you're doomed to repeat it."


The exhibit, originally created for a 50-year post-war anniversary in Vienna, has traveled to all the capitals in Europe, as well as to Asia and the United States. Three updated exhibits are touring through California, including one traveling in the San Joaquin Valley from Bakersfield to Sacramento.


"There are terrible things coming out of the mouths of different leaders regarding the Jews, people saying that the Holocaust didn't do its job (at eliminating the Jews)," Balitzer said. "That's why the Holocaust happened, because decent, respectable people couldn't believe that other people could do those things. That's why we want as many people as possible to see this exhibit."