PRESERVING MEMORY by Edward T. Linenthal

PRESERVING MEMORY

The Struggle to Create America's Holocaust Museum
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 An intriguing record of the contested, anxious decisions behind every brick of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Linenthal (Religion and American Culture/Univ. of Wisconsin, Oshkosh) has written about other American memorials (Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields, 1991), but not even the commemorative efforts at Pearl Harbor or Little Big Horn were charged with this much ethnic and political sensitivity. Would a Holocaust museum in the heart of Washington, D.C., be too Jewish or not Jewish enough? This question was bandied about by committee members before the first brick was laid, resulting in the architect's decision to keep the exterior of the building consistent with its neighbors' (such as that of the Treasury building), yet to disallow any view of the Washington Mall from within. Linenthal documents how gypsies, the handicapped, homosexuals, blacks, and political prisoners of various European nations all tried to ``get into the act'' as represented genocide victims. As if the inter-ethnic politics were not sticky enough, the sponsor's foreign policies were also under the gun. Washington had been wary of the project ever since committee-member Elie Wiesel embarrassed President Reagan by publicly asking him not to go to Bitburg to honor the German war dead. At the museum's dedication ceremony the Nobel laureate continued his gadfly activities, pressing a reluctant President Clinton to intervene in the Bosnian genocide--``Something, anything must be done,'' challenged Wiesel, to make Holocaust memory truly relevant. Some Christian groups objected that the memorial perpetuated an anti- Christian sense of not forgiving one's enemies. Even decor decisions about the exhibits were charged: How should Nazi propaganda or quotes from Hitler be presented so as to show their inherent evil? Occasionally bogged down in unnecessary detail, but a fascinating ``making of'' account that adds much to our appreciation of the museum and our understanding of what and how humankind chooses to remember.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-670-86067-0
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1995




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