Potomac resident and Baltimore native Diane Saltzman is director of survivor affairs at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. She's also the director of the museum's initiative on Holocaust denial and state-sponsored anti-Semitism. She spoke to The Washington Examiner in the days leading up to Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is Monday.
Why do you think it's important to remember the Holocaust?
It's critical for people to remember the Holocaust. It is a watershed moment in human history. It's still incomprehensible, despite everything we know about it. And yet we're obligated to try to understand it for two very important reasons. The first is to honor the memory of the victims, those who were killed, those who suffered. And by trying to understand what happened, we are really trying to change the world we live in. Because the Holocaust is about the human experience. It's about humanity and humankind. It's something that human beings were and are capable of, and we are obligated to try to push back against that part of human nature and the human experience.
What have you learned from working with Holocaust survivors?
I have had an unbelievable privilege in working with Holocaust survivors. They've taught me about themselves, so I've learned much more about the history, because every individual experienced different things. Every one of them is unique and poignant and tragic. Most of the survivors I've worked with on a day-to-day basis are those that volunteer at the museum. They've decided despite the pain and anguish they have to relive talking about this history, that it was so important to them to basically make other eyewitnesses of our visitors and other people they encounter. I've learned about strength, humility, commitment, bravery, gratitude.
It's amazing to think that some doubt the Holocaust happened.
There are people that deny it because they are completely ignorant. And then for others, I don't think most deny because they really don't believe. I think they deny because they hate. Holocaust denial is a form of anti-Semitism. The Holocaust is the most well-documented crime in human history. There are millions and millions of pages of documents, of photographs, much of it created by the perpetrators themselves. There is no absence of true, reliable, authentic documentation of what happened, so there must be some other reason of why people choose to deny the Holocaust, and its roots are in anti-Semitism. You deny someone's history, you deny their right to exist.
What do you want people to walk away from the museum learning?
The Holocaust was not inevitable. It was the result of a series of actions and inactions on the part of many, many, many people. Everybody's an actor in history. We are all responsible for the actions and activities of what goes on around us. It's about our own agency, a lot of the exhibition. What you do matters.
At your core, what is one your defining beliefs?
It is a core belief for me, and it fits in with my work here, that we are all are responsible for the world that we live in, and we owe it to each other as fellow human beings to stand up, speak out, push back and to accept that responsibility. It comes with the territory of being a human, to understand our obligation to each other.
- Liz Essley