NPR

As American Awareness Fades, Holocaust Museum Refreshes The Story

A new exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum contextualizes American action — and inaction — during the Nazi rise to power. A 96-year-old Holocaust survivor says it's about time.
At the close of World War II, when visual evidence of mass murder finally surfaces, Americans can no longer doubt the stories of Nazi cruelty. Still, the narrative is caught up in a blur of other front-page headlines: Americans celebrating the victory over Nazism; Hitler's death; and the death of FDR. Source: Eslah Attar/NPR

A new exhibit that opens Monday at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum aims to honor a founding mission.

Five years in the making, "Americans and the Holocaust" contextualizes attitudes in the U.S. during 1930s and '40s persecution and mass murder of Jews in Europe.

Twenty-five years ago, when the building opened, noted Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel introduced the museum not as an answer to the horrors of genocide but to pose a glaring question: How could this happen?

The American responses "must and will be explored thoroughly and honestly," Wiesel said in a 1979 address before President Jimmy Carter, who had tasked a commission, chaired by Wiesel, with recommending an appropriate memorial for the 6 million lives lost.

The historical evidence in the museum collection in Washington, D.C., detailing what America knew and when, dispels myths that its actors didn't have enough information about the magnitude of Nazi Germany's campaign to intervene, says Daniel Greene, a historian and the curator

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