Because of the magnitude of the Holocaust, its scope and the critical issues it raises, the Commission recommends establishment of a living memorial that will speak not only of the victims’ deaths but of their lives, a memorial that can transform the living by transmitting the legacy of the Holocaust.
The Commission recommends that the three components of such a living memorial be:
- A memorial/museum
- An educational foundation
- A Committee on Conscience
While a monument alone may commemorate the victims, no structure can fully reveal the process that culminated in extermination; nor can it document the awesome dimensions of the crime or analyze its causes and implications. While no monument in and of itself can speak to the present or inform the future, the Commission does recommend the erection of a physical structure as a setting for a living memorial.
1. National Holocaust Memorial/Museum
The Commission recommends that a National Holocaust Memorial/Museum be erected in Washington, D. C. The museum must be of symbolic and artistic beauty, visually and emotionally moving in accordance with the solemn nature of the Holocaust.
The Commission proposes that the museum become a Federal institution, perhaps an autonomous bureau of the Smithsonian Institution offering extension services to the public, to scholars, and to other institutions.
The museum would present the Holocaust through pictorial accounts, films, and other visual exhibits within a framework that is not merely reportorial but analytic, encouraging reflection and questioning. Furthermore, the museum would provide a fluid medium in which to apply historical events to contemporary complexities; its presentations would not be static but designed to elicit an evolving understanding. Recent technological innovations in computers and information banks now make it possible for museum visitors to become active learners and inquirers.
Museum exhibits would focus on the six million Jews exterminated in the Holocaust and millions of other victims. Changing displays would allow for emphasis on areas of current concern.
Special emphasis would also be placed on the American aspect of the Holocaust—the absence of American response (exclusion of refugees, denials of the Holocaust, etc.), the American liberation of the camps, the reception of survivors after 1945, the lives rebuilt in this country and their contribution to American society and civilization, the development of a new sensitivity to the Holocaust, and the growing respect for the multi-ethnic, multi-dimensional aspects of American culture. Also incorporated would be the life and culture of the victims and not just the destruction process. Similarly, the museum would depict the extraordinary efforts to preserve human dignity and life during the Holocaust, the heroic resistance efforts, and the response of renewed life after the Event.
The museum would house a library, an archive of Holocaust materials, computer linkage to existing centers of Holocaust documentation, and a reference staff. Such facilities would enable both the general public and specialized scholars to study the record of the Holocaust. Conference rooms, a lecture hall, and audiovisual equipment would also be provided.
While the Commission has reached no specific conclusions as to the exact programmatic content of the museum—such conclusions await the creative imagination of designers, planners, and architects working in cooperation with scholars and survivors—it has formulated guidelines for the substantive themes to be conveyed.
Life as Well as Death: The museum is to treat the existence and culture of the Jews of Europe before and during the war, their religious practices, their social and political convictions, and their economic character as well as the cultures of other peoples exterminated by the Nazis in order to recreate a vision of the world that was lost.
The Universal and the Particular: The Jews were Hitler’s primary victims against whom the total fury of the Holocaust was unleashed: to dilute or deny this reality would be to falsify it in the name of misguided universalism. Since Jews were not the only people to suffer and since others perished for their convictions or affiliations, for their nationality or race in the machinery of death initially designed for the destruction of Jews, the Commission recommends that the museum incorporate displays on the Poles, the Gypsies, and other exterminated groups. Similarly, the museum should speak of the heroic individuals and groups of many nations who risked their freedom and their lives to save Jews from arrest and extermination—e.g., the Danish people whose noble efforts resulted in the rescue of 92 percent of the Jewish population of Denmark, and of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat assigned to Hungary who saved 30,000 Hungarian Jews. The breakdown of human solidarity must also be presented, the betrayals, the failure of some underground movements to provide arms for resistance, the collaboration of some local populations with the Germans to isolate and execute Jews, and the cooperation of leadership.
The universal implications of the Holocaust challenge Western civilization and modern, scientific culture. What threatened one people in the past could recur to threaten another people or, indeed, all humanity.
The American Experience: Since the museum is to be a national institution it should deal with the American role during World War II. This includes American accomplishments, such as the War Refugee Board which saved thousands, the military successes that led to liberation of the concentration camps the reception of survivors, and the support for a Jewish homeland, but it must also confront our nation’s failures. The museum should deal, for example, with the inability of people to believe that the Holocaust was happening or to translate information into effective action.
An Understanding of the Holocaust: The museum should trace the roles of the bystanders as well as the perpetrators and victims, delving into such issues as the collapse of the Weimar Republic, the rise of Nazism, the reasons for the choice of the Jew as principal victim. It should elucidate the mechanisms of social control and psychological manipulation perfected by the Nazis.
Location: The Commission resolved that the memorial should be built in Washington, D.C., the capital of the country and the seat of government, for the materials to be presented by it affect all Americans, raising fundamental questions about government, the abuses of unbridled power, the fragility of social institutions, the need for national unity, and the functioning of government. By reminding us of the potential for violence in human society, the museum can contribute to a strengthening of the democratic processes.
Model: When the Commission inquired as to an appropriate location for the memorial within the framework of current governmental activities, an independent institution and/or autonomous bureau of the Smithsonian Institution were presented as possible models. In addition to offering displays, the memorial/museum could parallel other services offered by the Smithsonian and other Federally sponsored institutions. For example, the plan to sponsor curricula development and other educational programs (see page 12) might be analogous to those of the Alliance for Education in the Arts, a program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts which offers school systems throughout the nation a wide variety of outreach programs. The archival resources proposed for the memorial/museum could, like the Kennedy Center library, be linked to the Library of Congress and thus be enabled to provide research facilities and informational retrieval systems servicing both the casual student and the serious scholar. Like the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, another bureau of the Smithsonian, the memorial might also become a center of learning hosting conferences and stimulating Holocaust-related research. In the manner of the National Gallery of Art, it could also assist local museums and resource centers throughout the country in planning and developing Holocaust presentations. The relationship between institutions and the memorial/museum would be one of cooperation and mutual nourishment, with the national center playing a central cooperative role.
An association with the Smithsonian Institution either as an autonomous bureau or in a cooperative working relationship is desirable by virtue of a shared concern. Dedicated to the diffusion of knowledge among men, its various divisions celebrate the triumphant achievements of human history and creativity: the evolution of the human species (The National Museum of Natural History), the increasing human control of environment (The National Museum of History and Technology), the aesthetic genius of the human imagination (The National Collection of Fine Arts and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden), and the extension of the boundaries of human civilization to the skies and outer space (The National Air and Space Museum).
If the present branches of the Smithsonian represent the accomplishments of civilization, the Holocaust illuminates an alternate dimension of human experience, as well as the power of life to resist and renew itself. The Holocaust raises basic questions about human nature and its capacity for evil. The fact that this process of destruction was committed by one of the most cultured and technogically advanced societies adds a somber dimension to the progress of humanity celebrated by the Smithsonian. The connection of the memorial/museum with the various parts of the Smithsonian would allow the presentation of a more complete picture of civilization, a greater vision of its promises and dangers.
2. Educational Foundation
The Commission recommends that there be included as part of a Holocaust memorial an Educational Foundation dedicated to the pursuit of educational work through grants, extension services, joint projects, research and explo ration of issues raised by the Holocaust for all areas of human knowledge and public policy.
The Foundation should stimulate and support such work in all sections of the country within existing programs, both academic and educational, as well as within the network of institutions that deal with the Holocaust. The Educational Foundation should also assist with the development of appropriate curricula and resource material while working cooperatively with those sc hoof systems which wish to implement the study of the Holocaust. The Washington center would function also as a clearinghouse for the exchange of information.
To implement the conviction of the Commission that the study of the Holocaust become part of the curriculum in every school system in the country, the Foundation should include various support systems, financial aid, evaluation of Holocaust courses presently offered in public and private schools, consortia, conferences, teacher-training workshops, and summer institutes for educators and scholars.
In the area of higher education, the Foundation should make available to scholars and graduate students fellowships for research and travel as well as matching grants for institutions or faculty who work with students. Other activities to be coordinated by the Educational Foundation would involve project funding, translations into English of important works in many languages and a visiting faculty program.
The Commission recommends that a publishing program be part of the Educational Foundation, with priority given to out-of-print classics, new works of special merit, survivors’ accounts, and documentary or photographic publication. Emphasis should also be placed on scholarly studies which are essential to an understanding of the Holocaust but which are not commercially viable.
Finally, in recognition of the powerful educational role of the media, the Foundation should offer development grants and prizes for work in the arts, literature, and the media.
Because of the Commission’s conviction that the teaching of the Holocaust is a critical dimension of the living memorial, the Educational Foundation is proposed to complement the museum by helping and encouraging the introduction of the study of the Holocaust in junior and senior high schools and universities, as well as by stimulating the development of resources for such teaching and study. Further, the Educational Foundation would encourage research on the Holocaust and promote the interaction of scholars and educators.
The Educational Foundation would confine itself to developmental and supportive functions. Standard history and other textbooks can be encouraged to deal with the Holocaust as a substantive part of their treatment of World War II.
Teacher-training is another major area for the Educational Foundation, a need intensified by the growth in the number of colleges and secondary schools teaching the Holocaust. Within the past 5 years, course offerings have increased fifty-fold, and it is estimated that by 1985 over a thousand school systems will offer specific courses. While the subject of the Holocaust is now handled on the college level within a variety of departments—literature, history philosophy, religion, psychology, and sociology—there is only one graduate program in Holocaust studies anywhere in the United States: Temple University, which offers a Ph.D. in religion with a specialty in the Holocaust. Many university and high school teachers assigned to teach the Holocaust courses would profit from more adequate preparation.
The availability of teaching resources during this sensitive stage in the development of Holocaust studies could have a beneficial effect on the projects undertaken and help set standards in the field. New materials could be widely disseminated.
While the growing interest in the Holocaust has evoked the publication of scores of new books in recent years, research funds are still very scarce. Through its financial support, the Foundation could stimulate research and publications in the field. Through its archive and library facilities, equipped with information retrieval systems, it could facilitate access to scholarly material from centers throughout the world.
The Commission recommends that the Foundation also be charged with funding oral history projects of survivors living in America as well as of American soldiers who helped liberate concentration camps. This uniquely American aspect of the Holocaust will be lost with the passage of time and the death of those witnesses if such projects are not initiated soon. While some attempts have been made,—e.g., the oral history projects of the Center for Holocaust Studies, Emory University and the American Jewish Committee—these undertakings have been handicapped by limited resources and the absence of a coordinating repository for materials.
The Foundation could also sponsor or co-sponsor social science research on the effects of trauma on survivors and their children. It might also commission musical or artistic activities relating to the Holocaust and offer creative input to improve the quality of media presentations on the Holocaust.
3. Committee on Conscience
The Commission recommends that a Committee on Conscience composed of distinguished moral leaders in America be appointed. This Committee would receive reports of genocide (actual or potential) anywhere in the world. In the event of any outbreak, it would have access to the President, the Congress, and the public in order to alert the national conscience, influence policy makers, and stimulate worldwide action to bring such acts to a halt.
Of all the issues addressed by the Commission, none was as perplexing or as urgent as the need to insure that such a totally inhuman assault as the Holocaust—or any partial version thereof—never recurs. The Commission was burdened by the knowledge that 35 years of post-Holocaust history testify to how little has been learned. Only a conscious, concerted attempt to learn from past errors can prevent recurrence to any racial, religious, ethnic, or national group. A memorial unresponsive to the future would also violate the memory of the past.
In the years following the Holocaust, Americans repeatedly explained: "We didn’t know. We didn’t understand the magnitude of the problem. If only we had known, something would have been done." Trusting in the moral responsiveness of the American people and other peoples throughout the world, the Commission feels that the task now is to combat silence and ignorance; if evil cannot be totally eliminated, it may at least be alleviated.
The Commission recognizes that genocide has both a legal and political definition. It knows well the potential for the politicization of a Committee on Conscience, but the risks are worth taking if such a body can provide maximal exposure for dangerous developments, raising, in one scholar’s words, an "institutional scream" to alert the conscience of the world and spark public outcry. Open hearings could be instituted in the event of major offenses against peoples, so that early reports of atrocities would not be suppressed, as they were between 1941 and 1943.
The Committee on Conscience would not duplicate the roles of existing human rights agencies, whether national or international, but would concentrate upon genocidal situations, transmitting information and advocating strong action on the part of the United States, other countries, or the United Nations.
To explore the potential for preventive action, as an example, the Chairman of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust traveled to Argentina this summer to witness first-hand the massive human rights violations that have been reported. Because of regrettable State Department unresponsiveness, the scope of the Chairman’s contacts were limited. Valuable information, however, was obtained.
The Boat People further illustrate the unique role that the Committee on Conscience can play. Speaking for the Commission, the Chairman appealed directly to the President of the United States to intervene on their behalf. He was also named to the delegation at the international conference at Geneva, in which role he was able to help bring about international relief activities. This is not to presume that the Commission is or would be the lone voice to redress an outrage; the media, by the persistence of its reporting, has continually focused attention on the plight of the Boat People. Yet the voices which spoke out of the experience of the Holocaust resonated with special authenticity. By being reminded of Evian (a conference of 32 nations held in 1938 that failed to rescue the Jews when Hitler flung that challenge in the world’s face), the recent Geneva Conference on the Boat People was sensitized to the price of inaction. Because of the Administration’s awareness of the failures of the past, the Vice President’s somber address invoking the spectre of Evian commanded great urgency. He said:
Our children will deal harshly with us if we fail. The conference at Evian 41 years ago took place amidst the same comfort and beauty we enjoy at our own deliberations today. One observer at those proceedings—moved by the contrast between the setting and the task—said this:
"These poor people and these great principles seem so far away. To one who has attended other conferences on Lake Geneva, the most striking thing on the eve of this one is that the atmosphere is so much like the others."
Let us not be like the others. Let us renounce that legacy of shame. Let us reach beyond metaphor. Let us honor the moral principles we inherit. Let us do something meaningful—something profound—to stem this misery. We face a world problem. Let us fashion a world solution.
History will not forgive us if we fail. History will not forget us if we succeed.
4. Days of Remembrance
The Commission recommends that the Days of Remembrance of Victims of the Holocaust be proclaimed in perpetuity to be held annually, commencing on the Sunday of (or preceding) the internationally recognized Holocaust Commemoration Day.
The Commission further recommends that the Holocaust Memorial be charged in its charter with the continuing responsibility to develop means of commemorating the Days of Remembrance. This mandate is integral to the work of the proposed Holocaust Memorial.
The President charged the Commission to implement the Congressional resolution calling for the observance of April 28 and 29, 1979, as "Days of Remembrance." The authors wanted the observance "to occur on days when Americans worship in the churches and synagogues of the nation, to coincide with the internationally recognized Holocaust Commemoration Day, and to mark the anniversary of a significant American involvement in the Holocaust, namely, the liberation of Dachau by American troops." Mindful of the legislative intent and the task of commemorating events so shattering as to defy description, the Commission extended the commemoration to a week-long period so as to include the internationally recognized Holocaust Commemoration Day.
The programs initiated by the Commission were built on the foundation of two decades of commemoration activities, intensified this year by governmental involvement. Given the limited resources of the Commission, the number of activities were restricted to those capable of providing models for future years. Working on its own and in cooperation with several states, communities, and national organizations, the Commission organized the following activities:
1. National Civic Holocaust Commemoration Service in the Capitol Rotunda. President Carter led the leaders of the nation and invited guests in a memorial service that included music from the Holocaust sung by the Atlanta Boy Choir, a Presidential address, remarks by the Vice President, an address by the Chairman of the Commission, a candle-lighting ceremony, and appropriate prayers.
2. In the State of Minnesota, a model for state observances, with the help of the local community and the state leaders, programs included:
a. An exhibit of Holocaust art in the Interchurch Center of Minnesota.
b. A conference and teacher workshop, featuring Professor Raul Hilberg as the keynote speaker and scholar in residence, on "The Implications of the Holocaust for Western Society."
c. A state civic ceremony similar to the national ceremony, held in the state capitol with an address by the Governor and a Commissioner.
d. An ecumenical Christian service of commemoration with the participation of all major Christian churches.
e. A Jewish service of commemoration with the participation of all the local synagogues of Minneapolis-St. Paul.
f. A series of documentaries and Holocaust films shown statewide on public and network television.
3. Other Activities: Similar statewide activities were held in Connecticut and New Jersey with a member of the Commission or its Advisory Board participating in the services at the state capitols.
The Commission also participated in the largest Holocaust commemoration service in North America held annually in New York City, organized by the Warsaw Ghetto Resistance Organization and sponsored by other survivors’ organizations. Over 25,000 people attended.
The Commission also joined in a Holocaust commemoration service at the National Cathedral in Washington. D.C., at which Senator John Danforth, an ordained Episcopal minister, was the guest preacher. A special liturgy and litany were composed for the occasion which was shared with all Episcopal ministers throughout the United States.
As a model for future observances, the Commission has worked with the City of Sommerville, Massachusetts, on a series of commemorative and educational assemblies in its high schools, featuring films and talks by survivors. The Commission also assisted the National Educational Television network with the selection of appropriate documentary films related to the Holocaust for broadcast throughout the commemorative week.
The Commission’s views regarding the Days of Remembrance directly reflect this year’s experience. Foremost among its proposals is that these days become a part of the national calendar. The international Holocaust commemoration day falls on the 27th of Nisan by the lunar calendar, a date that never conflicts with either Easter or Passover; the week of Remembrance should begin on the preceding Sabbath.
5. Additional Recommendations
The following recommendations for governmental action are offered by the Commission as appropriate forms of remembering the victims of the Holocaust:
a. Ratification of the Genocide Convention:
The Commission joins with the President of the United States in urging the Senate to ratify the Genocide Convention.
The Genocide Convention itself was the outgrowth of the worldwide moral revulsion upon the revelation of the full enormity of the Holocaust. The Commission believes that the knowledge that perpetrators will be held responsible for the crime of genocide can play some role in preventing such acts in the future. Moreover, the punishment of criminals involved in the genocidal activities of World War II was criticized on the grounds that genocide was not recognized as a crime by international law prior to 1939.
b. Prosecution of Nazi War Criminals in America:
The Commission recommends direct governmental intervention to:
- Assure high priority to the investigation and, if warranted, prosecution of Nazi war criminals in America.
- Insure adequate funds and staffing for the Office of Special Investigator charged with the prosecution of accused Nazi war criminals in our midst.
- Assign experienced trial lawyers to the prosecution staff.
- Insist that government agencies render accessible all relevant records and testimony.
- Exert diplomatic influence to assure the cooperation of other governments in obtaining materials pertaining to ongoing investigations and trials of alleged Nazi war criminals.
Since the end of World War II, more than 200 individuals accused of direct complicity in genocide and other Nazi crimes have lived in the United States, free from prosecution or deportation in cases where their American citizenship was obtained by fraud or denial of their past record. The allegation that some of these criminals found refuge and employment under the auspices of various U.S. agencies lends dramatic emphasis to the moral necessity for finally resolving this issue.
The Commission has viewed with gratitude recent steps taken by the Congress and the Executive Branch to rectify these situations. It wishes to underscore the historical importance of this quest for justice.
c. Jewish Cemeteries Abroad:
The Commission recommends that in recognition of the sanctity of the physical remains of the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe and the right of the dead to a final resting place, the State Department should continue to express its concern over the destruction of cemeteries, urging that they be maintained in a suitably respectable manner.
One of the few remnants of Jewish life in Eastern Europe are the cemeteries. In recent years, the cemeteries have been destroyed by new building projects, housing developments, and road construction. The Commission strongly urges that pressure be brought to prevent vandalization, to repair markers or to supply markers where they are missing, and to maintain grounds.
The Commission concludes that the proposed physical memorial/museum to the Holocaust with its educational foundation is achievable.
The Commission recommends that financial support he provided through a public-private partnership involving government participation and private fund-raising, employing the model of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and other major memorials. The Federal Government would provide seed money (up to $1 million) for the broad design of facilities and program plus a challenge grant to be matched in the private sector over a 3-year period.
The Commission respectfully requests the direct moral support, endorsement, and involvement of the White House in this effort.
The sources of funds for establishing and maintaining the Holocaust memorial and its programs can include large individual contributors, foundations, associations, institutions, corporations, civic organizations. churches, and synagogues as well as voluntary contributions from Americans in all walks of life throughout the country.
In accordance with the President’s guidelines and in the light of the universal significance of the Holocaust, the Commission holds that funding for the memorial should be realized principally through public subscription. Despite the size of the project, the Commission believes that it can receive extensive public support.
While financial support may be largely non-governmental, issues raised by the Holocaust are so fundamentally tied to public policy that funding of the memorial must involve a national effort. The Commission deems Federal participation crucial to the mobilization and channeling of public concern.
A land grant and governmental status would symbolize Federal commitment while leaving the major responsibility for funding and initiative to the American people through the private sector, as was the case in the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars or the National Gallery of Art. The dialectic of a government-private partnership, a national center with grass roots programming, and an academic endeavor with ethical exploration would in itself be an extraordinary cultural and political model.
Funds will be needed for the museum/memorial, for endowing or capitalizing both continuing programs and one-time building costs, and for the acquisition and computerization of scholarly archives. Cost estimates will depend on many factors to be considered by the successor body to the Commission. It is intended that these funds will be raised primarily by private contributions supplemented by a land grant and challenge grants from the Federal Government.
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