Director, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Long before she joined the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Sara Bloomfield taught students about the Holocaust. Here, Bloomfield explains why remembering this history matters.
I think leaving America and leaving the security of my home and family and community helped me understand better what it meant to be an American, what it meant to be a Jew. I mean, I'm a big believer in leaving your comfort zone and leaving your country and going out and seeing the world, and I think that's how you learn who you are, who you can be, who you must be in the world.
Long before she joined the staff of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Sara Bloomfield taught students about the dangers of intolerance. Today, as director of the Museum, Bloomfield continues to educate about Holocaust history and the threat of hatred and genocide today.
Welcome to Voices on Antisemitism, a free podcast series of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I'm Daniel Greene. Every other week, we invite a guest to reflect about the many ways that antisemitism and hatred influence our world today. Here's Holocaust Memorial Museum Director, Sara Bloomfield.
When I lived in Australia, I was trained to teach English literature to high school students. And I was rummaging around the textbook room one day, and I found a copy of Elie Wiesel's Night. And I thought, wow, this would be great, I could teach a unit on prejudice and hate. And I had seventh graders, theI had actually the number one classvery smart kids. And, I indeed read it in, I think, the course of one period.
And at the end of the class my very best student came up to me and said, "I noticed that when you read that there was something emotional, in your voice."
And I said, "Well that's because I'm Jewish."
And she was horrified. And she put her hand up to her mouth in utter shock, and then she said, "Don't worry, I won't tell anyone your secret."
And I said, "It's not a secret. It's who I am, and it'sI'm proud of it."
And she said, "No, no, you can never tell anyone in this school that you're Jewish. They will hate you for it."
So I went home that night, and I thought about this, and I thought that this had to be a learning experience for my kids. So we made a list of, as the class the next day, of all the things that one could ever be prejudiced against in the world. Then we went through and said, "Who in this room has these feelings, and who in this room is of that group?" So when it got to, "Who is a Jew?" I raised my hand. And the entire class erupted into pandemonium.
I think for some students they never quite got over it. I mean, they had a lot of questions about, you know, what is a Jew? They had heard really horrible stories. I mean, one kid actually said to me, "But you look like us." It was if a Jew was an exotic creature, from outer space.
So, maybe at that pivotal moment I was destined to become involved with the Holocaust.
Teaching people about the Holocaust explains that antisemitism is a very dangerous problem, and that not only can it be carried to ultimate consequences, but it wasin recent history. Technological progress seems to be fairly inevitable, but that does not mean moral progress is. The Nazis were a very advanced, educatedwe could call them a progressivesociety. In fact, they would have almost defined their social engineering as a sign of their progress. And, I think one of the lessons that as we move into this very interconnected, globalized twenty-first century, that we are learning is the power of hate. I mean, hatred can spread as quickly, you know, as an Internet virus. So I do think that this psychological need for hatred is something we better be facing up to about our species, and if we don't we will do so at our own peril.
I think our Museum presents the Holocaust in a way that challenges people to confront human naturethe entire spectrum, from extraordinary evil that led to the mass murder of Jews to the extraordinary goodness of people who risked their lives, risked the lives of their families to save another human being, and every kind of shade of human behavior in between. And, for me, it says to people, now that you know this about ourselves as a species, what must you do with this? You must do something with this. You must be responsible for our species.
Voices on Antisemitism is a free podcast series of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Join us every other week to hear a new perspective on the continuing threat of antisemitism in our world today. To contribute your thoughts to our series, please call 888-70USHMM, or visit our Web site at www.ushmm.org. At that site, you can also listen to Voices on Genocide Prevention, a podcast series on contemporary genocide.