Thursday, January 22, 2009

Shofar From God

Boy, did the Holocaust suck, or what? Sorry, we've been struggling for a segue from Obama to Hitler, and we lack Congressman Broun's facility with language.

When it comes to the Holocaust, it's hard to find fault with any attempt at remembrance or education. Still, we're going to try, because earlier this week we spent an hour or so in Mexico's Holocaust Museum (specifically, the Museo Histórico Judío y del Holocausto 'Tuviel Maizel'), and, man, was it weird.

The museum proudly claims to have had 150,000 visitors to date, though another way of putting this - since it's been open six days a week since 1970, - would be "12 a day." It seems kind of obvious to us that efforts to educate and memorialize are considerably less effective if no one knows these efforts exist. We would never have even heard of this museum if it wasn't listed on one of those cheesy ad-laden maps that hotels hand out. The marker on the map was in the wrong place, but because we'd happened to double-check the address in the phone book, we were able to find it. Or at least we thought we had. What we found was an enormous black monolith of a building, its yard ringed with (irony alert!) electrified wire, and with no sign or other identifying markers except for two policemen outside and a number of concrete barriers protecting the entrance from truck bombers. In today's world, we know better than to quibble with anyone's possibly excessive security measures, but it's unclear to us just how a truck bomber would find the place. We've been to the US Holocaust Museum in Washington, Yad Vashem, and the Dachau concentration camp - all of them had signs on the outside.

The policemen (actual cops, not security guards) assured us this was the place, and ushered us into a hallway, where we rang a bell and a heavy metal door was buzzed open. We presented identification at the window, and were then asked to step back outside, presumably while they Googled us. We sat there for ten minutes before being buzzed back in, relieved of our bags, and led up a couple of flights to the museum. Before we could tour the museum, we had to sit through a short film about Nazism and the Holocaust, in English (they could cater to us individually, since we were the only people in the place.)

Perhaps because we've actually met Jews before ("some of our blog's best commenters are Jewish!") we found the first third of the museum - which could have been titled "Jews Exist" - somewhat tedious. (Mexico being 99.6% not-Jewish, we do realize this section serves an actual purpose.) The next section got down to business: The Nazis came, and they persecuted the Jews, then moved them into ghettos, then death camps, then they were liberated, Israel was founded, and they all lived happily ever after. We're condensing here, but not by much. Seriously, it was about as challenging as a coloring book.

As we moved on to a display on the four stages of Jewish life (circumcision, bar mitzvah, marriage, Kaddish), an attendant came over to inform us that photography was not allowed. This seemed odd in a museum, but odder still was his demand that we erase the photos we had already taken. Because, really, the last thing you'd want in an educational museum is for any of the information contained therein to leak out. Burro Hall readers should feel especially robbed, since we were taking a photo of a photo of a well-respected Mexico City mohel named (this is true) Dr Klip. That's him below in a picture we lifted from the website. You deserve better.

The final third of the museum is dedicated to Squadron 201 the famous (in Mexico, anyway; they've even got a metro station named after them) squad of Mexican pilots attached to the US Air Force in 1945, which flew a bunch of missions in the Philippines, about 6,000 miles from the nearest concentration camp. The reason it's included in the Museum of Jewish History and the Holocaust is...well, we don't know. It's not like there's any guide there you can ask.

As we wandered back downstairs towards the exit we found, tucked away in an empty corridor, an exhibit called "Visas for Life," about consular officers who worked to get Jews out of dangerous areas, including the genuine Mexican hero Gilberto Bosques, who probably saved more European Jews personally than all the Allied Nations combined. There was another visitor walking through it as well, but she was accosted by the attendant who said she couldn't look at the exhibit unless she went upstairs and sat through the introductory video first. We slinked quietly towards the exit at that point.

Never again, as they say.


s said...

Dr. Klip!?--Talk about being predestined for a job.....your whole visit there sounds like a "Curb your enthusiasm" episode...

chip said...

Awesome post, dude. Really interesting.
So interesting that I'm not being anonymous or snarky.

Burro Hall said...

Wait til my friend Chip finds out you're posting under his name...