In observance of Yom HaShoah today, I have decided not to write anything original, but rather to bring to your attention an excellent piece written by Ed Rothstein, cultural critic for The New York Times. I have had the pleasure of personally meeting Rothstein several times when his daughter was my student a decade ago, and I have very much appreciated his analysis and writing over the years.
Rothstein articulately warns of taking what he terms “a homiletic approach” to the Holocaust, and against turning the lessons of the Holocaust solely into lessons about generalized intolerance – which is what so many Holocaust museums and curriculums do.
The most shocking fact I learned from the piece was that the number of 11 million as the total number of civilians murdered by the Nazi genocide (and the number I cited over and over to visitors to The Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York when I worked there as an educator) was fabricated by Simon Wiesenthal as a way of making the murder of 6 million Jews more accessible and relatable to the general public. Rothstein reports: “…the 11 million figure was pulled out of thin air by Wiesenthal. The historian Yehuda Bauer wrote: ‘Wiesenthal, as he admitted to me in private, invented the figure in order to create sympathy for the Jews — in order to make the non-Jews feel like they are part of us.’ In fact, historians suggest that there were perhaps a half million non-Jews who died in concentration camps.” Wow.
Click here to read the piece by Rothstein in The New York Times.
© 2011 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.