In this landmark exhibition, Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race, the Museum focuses on the physicians, psychiatrists, anthropologists, public health officials, and others who supported and, ultimately, implemented the Nazi racial eugenics program that culminated in genocide: the Holocaust. The topic is especially timely as our society debates such issues as cloning and the legal definitions of life and death. The exhibition sounds useful warnings against the unchecked subordination of individual rights to the welfare of the larger community, as well as abuses of scientific knowledge in the name of progress or the “greater good.”
In recent years, museums have become increasingly active as centers of informal civic education. In its 1991 report Education and the Public Dimension of Museums, the American Association of Museums charged museums to “help nurture a humane citizenry equipped to make informed choices in a democracy and to address the challenges and opportunities of an increasingly global society.” The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has a special role to play in this respect. Our Museum is unique: It is about responsibility—our responsibility to the past and to the memory of the victims and survivors, our responsibility to our fellow human beings in the present, and, perhaps most important, our responsibility to future generations.
As the nationally mandated steward of Holocaust history and memory, the Museum has a particular obligation. Even as there are fewer and fewer eyewitnesses to tell the story, the Museum must sustain its imperative to teach this history. Why teach about the Holocaust? Simply, it is to memorialize the victims and educate the public about this cataclysmic human event. But there is more to the obligation. During the Holocaust, every institution established to uphold civilized values failed—the academy, the media, the judiciary, law enforcement, the churches, the government, and, yes, the medical and scientific disciplines as well.
In the name of utopian ideals, many traditionally charged with the protection of the public good subscribed to the grossest violations of human rights—even mass murder. And they succeeded because so few resisted. As has often been said, indifference is always evil’s great accomplice. This points precisely to the mission of our Museum: to teach not just the history of the Holocaust but its lessons as well; to teach that nations require of their institutions and citizens an attentive commitment to individual rights, social justice, and respect for humane values.
Exhibitions are the core teaching tools of any museum. They use objects and documents—the evidence, the “real stuff” of history—to tell stories. Our exhibitions present history in such a way that visitors can examine themselves, their decisions, and their actions in both personal and professional contexts. What makes our exhibitions so powerful—and Deadly Medicine is surely an appropriate example—is that the history of the Holocaust is fundamentally about human nature and the entire spectrum of human behavior, from unimaginable evil to extraordinary goodness. It is about us and what it means to be a human being.
This exhibition speaks directly to issues that matter now, in our own time. What responsibility do medical professionals have to their patients? What are the implications of the ways we acquire and apply scientific information? Is it always possible to balance the needs of the society as a whole with the rights of the individual? In Deadly Medicine, the Museum furthers its commitment to education, remembrance, and conscience. It is our hope that the questions it raises will challenge our visitors to connect the past to the present, and, as a result, be more responsible and responsive human beings.
On behalf of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, I wish to acknowledge all who have helped to realize this important exhibition. From curators, researchers, and translators to designers, filmmakers, webmasters, and preparators; from conservators and editors to registrars, educators, and photographers, exhibitions are quintessentially team efforts. But the team is far broader than the dedicated staff and volunteers directly involved in the creation of the exhibition. Exhibitions require the support and endorsement of museum leadership, the encouragement of governance, the willing participation of lenders and donors, the expertise of scholars and advisors, and the generosity of benefactors.
On behalf of Fred Zeidman and Ruth B. Mandel, Chair and Vice-Chair of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, I commend everyone listed on the following pages for their contribution to this project. And to all who have enabled this exhibition to achieve fruition, we not only express heartfelt appreciation but also acknowledge, with a profound sense of privilege, your essential partnership in this Museum’s noble mission.
Sara J. Bloomfield
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum