Not your Sean Spicer Holocaust Center

Holocaust

(Correction: The Center has 5,000 artifacts. An earlier version had an incorrect number.)

Given that “Holocaust centers” were recently in the news, it seemed fortuitous that we already had plans to visit one.

Sean “I Slept through History Class” Spicer used the term last week to describe those places where Adolf Hitler gathered Jews for slave labor, starvation and death in gas chambers. This just after he said, “Hitler didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”

He tried to explain that away by seeming to say Hitler’s use was limited to “Holocaust centers,” which brought up the bizarre image in my mind of the “Arbeit Macht Frei” iron letters at the entrance of Nazi death camps being reforged to spell out “Welcome to Dachau Center” instead.

The Holocaust Center for Humanity in Seattle makes it plain that not any part of the Holocaust should be forgotten, that remembering this horror might help prevent a repeat. The center has more than 5,000 artifacts (corrected from earlier version) from this slaughter of innocents by the Nazi regime in the 1930s and ‘40s. It only has enough room to display a fraction of them, but they are enough to bring home the extent of this evil.

We joined the tail end of a tour being taken by Seattle police officers, part of a diversity course being undertaken by the entire force. The tour leader of that group and then of our small party was Dee Simon, the Baral Family Executive Director.

The center has 30 Holocaust survivors who serve as speakers, telling what they suffered and witnessed, remembering the family members they lost and recounting how fortunate they were to be among the few who escaped.

Dee Simon said the center reaches 40,000 students a year in Washington, Alaska, Oregon, Montana and Idaho, states where the teaching of the Holocaust is not mandated. For 28 years, the center has been sending schools trunks filled with books, curricula and other teaching materials. Schools can keep the trunks for three weeks before returning them to be refilled and sent on. Teacher training is also provided.

While I did not know about the Seattle Holocaust Center before the invitation to visit, my interest in history has led me to enough information about the Holocaust that I hope I would never make the blunder Spicer did last week. But a couple of Simon’s comments made me aware of how little I know about the complicity of corporations and German society in the Holocaust. Simon pointed out artifacts from the death camps with the insignias of BMW and other corporations. Which makes me want to read more about this and makes me uneasy about what we Americans either don’t know or choose not to know about what is being done around the world in our names.

The Holocaust ended with the close of World War II in 1945 and many of the Holocaust survivors are passing away. Some of their speaking roles are being taken over by their children and grand children. Simon is an example of that. Her mother was the only member of her school class to survive the Holocaust.

Thanks to Dee for the excellent tour. And to Carol, who invited us and, I suspect, provided the salads for lunch. We’ll try to even things up at your Voices for Humanity Luncheons in October.