Having visited the new Auschwitz exhibition at New York City’s Museum of Jewish Heritage, Dara Horn “found it everything an Auschwitz exhibition should be.” But when she reached the part explaining the mechanics of the gas chambers, she began asking herself about the purpose of “knowing all these obscene facts [about the murder of Jews] in such granular detail,” and this led to more troubling reflections:
At the end of the [exhibit], onscreen survivors talk in a loop about how people need to love one another. While listening to this, it occurs to me that I have never read survivor literature in Yiddish—the language spoken by 80 percent of victims—suggesting this idea. In Yiddish, speaking only to other Jews, survivors talk about their murdered families, about their destroyed centuries-old communities, about Jewish national independence, about Jewish history, about self-defense, and on rare occasions, about vengeance. Love rarely comes up; why would it? But it comes up here, in this for-profit exhibition. Here is the ultimate message. . . .
That the Holocaust drives home the importance of love is an idea, like the idea that Holocaust education prevents anti-Semitism, that seems entirely unobjectionable. It is entirely objectionable. The Holocaust didn’t happen because of a lack of love. It happened because entire societies abdicated responsibility for their own problems, and instead blamed them on the people who represented—have always represented, since they first introduced the idea of commandedness to the world—the thing they were most afraid of: responsibility. Then as now, Jews were cast in the role of civilization’s nagging mothers, loathed in life and loved only once they are safely dead. . . .
And I find myself furious, being lectured by this exhibition about love—as if the murder of millions of people was actually a morality play, a bumper sticker, a metaphor. I do not want my children to be someone else’s metaphor. (Of course, they already are.)