Editor’s note: Michael S. Glickman, Museum President & CEO, along with the directors of seven of the largest Holocaust museums and education centers in the U.S. and Canada, wrote the message below to respond to our communities’ heighted sense of urgency. You can also read and share it on Facebook.
Now Is the Time: A Message from Museum Directors on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day)
A woman sits onstage before an auditorium full of high school students, blinking under the lights and listening to the energetic hum of their unchecked conversation, counting on the small mic clipped to her jacket to cooperate when it is time to begin. She is determined to speak. The young people in the audience will likely sink into respectful quiet for her presentation, but then they will have questions—as they should. They will ask her to review parts of her history, re-focus on the loved ones she has lost, consider moments even beyond those she has presented. They will ask her to help them try to understand.
When Holocaust survivors present their personal histories to school groups, teachers, educators, and public audiences, they are committing acts of astonishing generosity. These presentations are logistical feats that make demands on survivors’ minds and spirits. The challenges of public speaking can be magnified by the difficulty of what survivors have to tell us. When they engage in the work of sharing their stories, their courage is apparent.
Survivor testimony personalizes history and reasserts the very humanity and dignity that the Nazis attempted to destroy. As the Holocaust museums and education centers of the United States and Canada, we offer opportunities for survivors to speak. Those of us who have facilitated in-person presentations have a front-row seat to their importance and impact.
In recent years, the tone of many survivor presentations has shifted. There is a heightened sense of urgency, a renewed willingness born of necessity. Now is the time. There can be no delay. Many among us may never have the opportunity to meet a Holocaust survivor. Some of the survivors in our communities have insisted that we consider the painful question: What then?
In the coming years, Holocaust museums and education centers like ours will have to take a greater role in allowing visitors to hear from witnesses through written and recorded testimonies. As time goes on, in what new ways can we allow survivors to “speak” to us? We are implementing new access points for oral histories, incorporating testimony in exhibitions, and encouraging visitors to make human connections mediated through technology.
Even as we try to preserve and magnify survivors’ voices, we have introduced another crucial question to our collective conversation: In what new ways do we have to learn—and teach others—to listen? As museums and education centers, we recognize and will fulfill our own particular responsibility to listen—to survivors and what they have taught us; to our communities as we continue to discover what they need from us; and to each other, so that new possibilities will emerge within our reach.
This year, Yom HaShoah—Holocaust Memorial Day—falls on April 12. We call on our communities in the United States and Canada to join us in saying: We will never forget. We will not allow the memory of millions to pass into stony silence. When we mourn those who were murdered and comfort those who suffered, we will tell their stories with the utmost respect for their human dignity. First, and far into the future, we will listen.
Chief Executive Officer, Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center
Executive Director, The Florida Holocaust Museum
Michael S. Glickman
President & CEO, Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust
Directrice générale, Musée de l’Holocauste Montréal
Mary Pat Higgins
President & CEO, Dallas Holocaust Museum
Executive Director, Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust
Rabbi Eli Mayerfeld
Chief Executive Officer, Holocaust Memorial Center, Zekelman Family Campus
Kelly J. Zúñiga, Ed.D.
Chief Executive Officer, Holocaust Museum Houston, Morgan Family Center