There Are No Nostalgic Nazi Memorials

Recently, a visitor to a southern plantation wrote a viral tweet complaining about a guide who forced her to spend her vacation hearing about slavery. Some tourists at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and Mount Vernon, The Washington Post reported last week, are posting negative reviews on TripAdvisor and elsewhere because of the barest mention of the African Americans who were forced to work at the third president’s home, creating much of the wealth that made the glories of Monticello possible.

There are no Nazi sites in Germany in the sense that there are plantation sites in the United States. The only equivalent sites that now exist in Germany are concentration camps.* On the site of Buchenwald, where as many as a quarter of a million inmates were held, a museum dispels any notion that the citizens of the nearby cultural capital Weimar were unaware of what was happening in their midst during World War II. The idea that tourists would visit such a place seeking smiling women in dirndls—much as some visit American plantations looking for ladies in hoop skirts—is obscene. Not even members of Germany’s right-wing Alternative for Germany party would suggest glorifying that part of the past.

My great-uncle wasn’t a racist, he just fought to defend his home. My grandfather died for the homeland he loved; what’s wrong with that? Sentiments along these lines will sound familiar if you’ve followed the long-simmering debates over the removal of Confederate flags and monuments across the United States—debates that intensified after nine black churchgoers were massacred in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. Some of those remarks were made by white supremacists who, plainly enraged by the presence of a black man in the White House, knew exactly why they wanted to keep Confederate flags flying. Others who are less malicious, if perhaps less honest, make such claims with vague references to family tradition.

But you’ll probably be surprised to learn that descendants of the Nazi armed forces—the Wehrmacht—once made exactly the same claims as the descendants of the Confederate army, and not just in the dark, shell-shocked days that followed the unconditional surrender outside Berlin in 1945. Remarks exculpating German soldiers continued to be made in public through the end of the 20th century. With 18 million members, the Wehrmacht had included a broader scope of German society than any other organization. Even Germans who did not serve in it had fathers, sons, cousins, or brothers who did. Until the now-famous Wehrmacht Exhibit traveled through Germany from 1995 to 1999, showing photographic evidence of war crimes committed by average troops, many still believed the myth that the Wehrmacht was clean, even gallant. Those brave men who defended their homeland against the Bolshevik menace were no better or worse than millions of soldiers before or after them.

In American life, the symbolic importance of the Nazis stands in inverse relation to what we know about them. Nazi just means: the black hole at the heart of history, the apex of evil, the sin for which no condemnation is sufficient, no expiation possible. There is, of course, a wealth of scholarship about the Nazi period produced by English-language historians. More problematic is public memory: what every half-educated member of a culture knows in her sinews, for it seeped into them before she can remember. Things like your country’s geography: few Americans must pause to consider whether Michigan is north of Arizona, or Connecticut east of California. If you’ve forgotten everything else from your school days, you’re likely to remember that. For most Americans, Nazi is condensed into one genocidal moment that marked the outer limit of Third Reich crimes: the transport of civilians, in cattle cars, to death camps where they were murdered by poison gas. By focusing on that moment, without a glance at what happened before or after it, we lose the opportunity to learn anything useful from the Holocaust whose lessons we are told to remember. We still know too little about how Germany reached the point of committing those crimes. We are also ignorant of how German society slowly and fitfully came to terms with its violent, racist history—a process from which other nations, including the United States, can learn.

Iarrived in Berlin in 1982 as a Fulbright fellow finishing a dissertation on Immanuel Kant. Still the Holocaust was inescapable. The 50th anniversary of the Nazi takeover was the following year, and, in preparation, thousands of Berliners were seeking ways to come to terms with what had happened. There were historical exhibits, theater and art productions, and no end of books and discussion. The projects were occasionally funded, but never organized, by the government. All were created by citizens revolted by the actions of their parents and teachers, and determined to expose the truth about them. Their unofficial slogan, printed on many a banner, was: “Collective Guilt? No! Collective Responsibility? Yes!”

Having begun my life as a white girl in a South racked by the civil-rights movement, I am likely to end it as a Jewish woman in Berlin. I have spent much of the intervening years watching Germany come to terms with its history. If the 2017 white-supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville established anything beyond doubt, it’s that Nazis are not only a German problem. Not everyone seeking to preserve symbols of the Confederacy is a Nazi. But the Nazis’ embrace of the Confederate cause makes plain: Anyone who fights for those symbols is fighting for Nazi values. For monuments are neither just about heritage or just about hate. They are values made visible. That’s why we build memorials to some parts of history and ignore others. They embody the ideas we choose to lift up, in the hopes of reminding ourselves and our children that those ideas have been embodied by brave men and women.

Germany has no monuments that celebrate the Wehrmacht. By choosing to remember what its soldiers once did, it has made a choice about the values it wants to reject. Other choices, like glass walls in government buildings, from the Reichstag dome on down, reflect the values it wants to maintain: Democracy should be transparent. When the Berlin Wall came down, it left behind prime real estate in the heart of the city. Instead of selling it to one of the many bidders, Parliament decided to dedicate 4.5 acres to what became the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, along with many smaller monuments scattered throughout the city. The rebuilding of Berlin—a long, sometimes maddeningly discursive process, in which historians, politicians, and citizens debated for more than a decade—was aspirational. No one, least of all a German, would claim that the renaming  and rebuilding of public spaces eradicated the roots of racism. The city was not rebuilt to reflect what is, but what ought to be. Berlin’s public space represents conscious decisions about what values the reunited republic should commit itself to holding—decisions with which Americans are now struggling.

The struggle itself is good news. We have learned that unexamined pasts fester, and become open wounds. Like most white Americans, I was taught a history that was both comforting and triumphant. I wasn’t, of course, entirely ignorant of the ways in which the country failed to live up to the ideals on which it was founded, but those failures remained peripheral, and part of a narrative that sloped upward toward progress. Slavery was a crime, but we’d fought a war to outlaw it; segregation was unjust, but the civil-rights movement had overcome it. Barack Obama’s presidency seemed the natural coda to this hopeful story. Few people believed that the election of an African American president could end racism entirely, but no one expected the backlash we are witnessing now. If there’s a silver lining to a White House that—in its public statements, policy choices, and political strategy—regularly signals its support for white nationalism, it’s that white Americans have been forced to publicly examine their country’s history as never before.

Just a few years ago, major national media had to patiently explain that the monuments valorizing Confederate soldiers were not innocent tributes to recently fallen ancestors, but the deliberate attempt of organizations like the Daughters of the Confederacy to promote a false account of the Civil War that buttressed white-supremacist ideology. For those of us who are not professional historians, the years between the Emancipation Proclamation and the Montgomery bus boycott were largely blank. The information has always been available—primarily in books and documents, far less in film or other media—but it took work to seek it out. Even the name “Jim Crow era” was deceptive. Without much knowledge of the ways in which slavery mutated into Black Codes, convict leasing, and racist terror, white Americans could continue to avoid acknowledging how central racism has been to our national story.  Now this information is harder to avoid. It turns up in PBS specials and in plantation tours that no longer describe the mahogany furniture, but the lives of those who made such wealth possible.

Inevitably, this public history will affect the way future generations come to understand their history.

From Newt Gingrich to Fox News, conservative voices have attacked this new focus as radical-left propaganda. Such reaction was inevitable. In Germany, too, the right has always attacked its country’s exercises in self-examination as exercises in self-hatred—in dirtying one’s own nest. In fact, Germany’s willingness to own its criminal past has been an act of cleaning out the nest after years of sweeping all the dirt under the carpet. Without it, it’s doubtful that Germany would have been readmitted to the family of civilized nations, much less become the leading power in Europe.

Of course, the circumstances surrounding racism in Germany and America, past and present, are not the same. History is just as particular as the individuals who make and are made by it; what worked in one place can’t be straightforwardly transferred to another. Seen in some light, the differences between German and American racist histories are glaring. Seen in another, what’s important is what the commonalities can teach us about guilt and atonement, memory and oblivion, and the presence of past in preparing for the future.

While researching these commonalities I spent half a year in Mississippi, not because American racism is confined to the South, but because the region’s deep—if often false—awareness of its history makes it a magnifying glass for the rest of the country. It’s impossible to drive more than a few miles without seeing a road sign marking the site of one Confederate memory or another; but the signs recently erected to commemorate the lynching of Emmett Till in the Mississippi Delta are regularly riddled with bullet holes. Interestingly enough, what gave the most hope to social-justice activists there working toward racial reconciliation was the knowledge that the Germans did not repent in horror the minute the war was over, but reacted much like defenders of the Confederate Lost Cause. Those activists working to convince their neighbors of the ways their racist past informs their racist present are, above all, aware of how hard it all is. The acknowledgments are too defensive, the racism too tenacious, the impulse to insist on one’s own victimization too strong. The knowledge that it took decades of hard work before those who committed what are generally regarded as the greatest crimes in history could acknowledge those crimes and begin to atone for them brings enormous relief to those still working toward similar acknowledgment in the U.S. If even Germans raised in the heart of darkness needed time and trouble to see the light, why shouldn’t it take time and trouble to bring Americans nurtured for years on messages of their own exceptional goodness to come to terms with homegrown crimes? The postwar German experience has been a slow and faulty process. Its successes and failures foreshadow the tentative steps America is taking toward justice and reconciliation. It is too soon to tell how successful those steps will be, but the recent struggles over American history give us some reason to hope.

Berlin celebrates post-WWII visitor program for expelled Jews

‘I thought I’d never come back,’ says Holocaust survivor Helga Melmed, 91, who returned to her hometown in 1977 as part of the program, now celebrating its 50th anniversary

In this September 11, 2019, photo, Holocaust survivor Helga Melmed poses for a portrait during an event celebrating the 50th anniversary of a program for people expelled and persecuted by the Nazis and bringing tens of thousands of them back to their home city for one-week trips in Berlin. (Paul Zinken/dpa via AP)

In this September 11, 2019, photo, Holocaust survivor Helga Melmed poses for a portrait during an event celebrating the 50th anniversary of a program for people expelled and persecuted by the Nazis and bringing tens of thousands of them back to their home city for one-week trips in Berlin. (Paul Zinken/dpa via AP)

BERLIN, Germany (AP) — Berlin was the last place Helga Melmed had expected to see again.

She was 14 when the Nazis forced her and her family onto a train from their home in the German capital to the Jewish ghetto in Lodz, Poland, in 1941.

For years, she never considered returning to Germany until she was invited in 1977 on a trip by the city of her birth, in a reconciliation program meant to help mend ties with former Berliners who had been forced out by the Nazis.

Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, the program has successfully brought people like Melmed on one-week trips to Berlin to reacquaint themselves with the city. Some 35,000 people have accepted the invitation since it was first issued in 1969, and while the numbers are dwindling a few new participants still come every year.

“I thought I’d never come back,” Melmed, 91, who emigrated to the US via Sweden after the war, told The Associated Press in an interview.

The “invitation program for former refugees” has brought back primarily Jewish emigrants who fled the Nazis, or those like Melmed who survived their machinery of genocide.

In this file photo taken during World War II, Jewish women and children get off coaches after arriving in the Auschwitz extermination camp. (INTERFOTO/AFP)

On Wednesday, she and other former program participants were invited to Berlin City Hall to celebrate the half-century anniversary.

At a ceremony mayor Michael Mueller thanked them for coming back — despite all they suffered at the hands of the Germans.

“Many people followed our invitation, people who had lost everything they loved,” he said. “I want to express my strong gratitude to you for putting your trust in us.”

Despite skepticism at the time that anyone persecuted by the Nazis would want to return, in 1970 — one year after the program’s launch — there was already a waiting list of 10,000 former Berliners who wanted to come back for a visit.

More than 100 other German cities and towns have instituted similar programs but no municipality has brought back as many former residents as the capital.

Berlin, of course, also had the biggest Jewish community before the Holocaust. In 1933, the year the Nazis came to power, around 160,500 Jews lived in Berlin. By the end of World War II in 1945 their numbers had diminished to about 7,000 — through emigration and extermination.

All in all, some six million European Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.

Melmed’s father was shot dead in the Lodz ghetto — where the Nazis concentrated Jews and forced them to work in factories — a few months after their arrival and her mother died of exhaustion a few months later, shortly after Melmed’s 15th birthday.

Melmed, who lives in Venice, Florida, received her invitation under the reconciliation program 42 years ago.

In this September 11, 2019 photo, Holocaust survivor Helga Melmed poses for a portrait during an event celebrating the 50th anniversary of a program for people expelled and persecuted by the Nazis and bringing tens of thousands of them back to their home city for one-week trips in Berlin. (Paul Zinken/dpa via AP)

“One day, out of the blue, I found a letter in the mailbox inviting me to come back for a visit,” the retired nurse said at the hotel where she was staying with two of her four children and a grandson.

“So, in 1977, my husband and I traveled to Berlin.”

They were part of an organized group tour of dozens of other former Berliners who had been persecuted by the Nazis.

“I don’t know if the trip was a dream or a nightmare,” Melmed said. One afternoon, she went for a coffee at Berlin’s famous Kempinski Hotel — today called the Bristol Hotel — just like she used to do as a little girl with her mother and dad, a banking executive.

“It was heartbreaking,” Melmed said.

Her life story is chronicled in the exhibition “Charter Flight into the Past” about the program, which opened Thursday at Berlin’s City Hall and will run through October 9.

Johannes Tuchel, the director of the German Resistance Memorial Center, which curated the exhibition, said that many returnees had conflicting emotions.

They didn’t trust the Germans — especially in the early years of the program, when many people they saw in the streets still belonged to the Nazi generation. Often, memories of loss and pain were stirred up by the visit, but at the same time many were also able to reconnect with a city that harbored many happy childhood mementos for them.

For Melmed, closure came only at an old age. In 2018, when she turned 90, she decided to return once again to Berlin. It was then that she met the current tenants of her old family home in the Wilmersdorf neighborhood of Berlin. They invited her back into the apartment and organized a plaque-laying ceremony last week to commemorate her parents on this year’s visit.

Last week, city officials presented her with her original birth certificate and her parents’ marriage certificate.

“Now it’s all closure for me,” Melmed said with a peaceful smile as she touched her golden necklace with a Star of David pendant. “It doesn’t hurt anymore.”


The center ‘plans to offer educators interdisciplinary graduate programs in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, incorporating history, Jewish studies, literature, law, philosophy and social work’

Yeshiva U. to open Holocaust and Genocide Studies Center

Yeshiva University’s Wilf Campus where the Emil A. and Jenny Fish Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies will be based.. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

“The center’s consequential mission will be to train both school and university educators in the field of Holocaust and Genocide Studies, with plans to offer graduate programs in the discipline,” the university announced on its website on Friday.

The Emil A. and Jenny Fish Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies is named for Holocaust survivor Emil Fish, who is funding the project.

“We must know the history about what happened and why and what the implications are for today,” Fish explained. “The Center will educate young people and adults about a singular event in history that regrettably, too few people understand, including what conditions existed before the Nazis ascended to power, how they rose to leadership positions, and why they targeted Jews.”

Born in Bardejov, Slovakia, Fish was sent as a young boy with his mother and sister to Bergen-Belsen, from where he was liberated in 1945. The family later reunited with Fish’s father and immigrated to Canada, and moved to Los Angeles in 1955.

Fish is the founder and president of the Bardejov Jewish Preservation Committee, which works to preserve and create a memorial for the survivors of the Holocaust in the Jewish suburb in Bardejov, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As antisemitism continues to remain rampant in New York and across the United States, and knowledge of the Holocaust begins to falter among future generations, Fish said that he believes “it is important to provide educators with the resources and programs needed to impart the relevancy of the Holocaust to a new generation of students who know less and less about this.”

YU President Dr. Ari Berman said that as “Holocaust education and awareness across the globe is transitioning from a pedagogy of living testimony to one anchored in memory, the center… will serve a crucial role as a leader and role model for a new generation of Holocaust scholarship and education.”

The center plans to offer educators interdisciplinary graduate programs in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, incorporating history, Jewish studies, literature, law, philosophy and social work.

The Center, which will be located on YU’s Wilf Campus, will conduct academic research and organize public events to further the goal of extending Holocaust education to people of all ages and backgrounds.

“By leveraging the uniquely qualified faculty and resources of Yeshiva University’s undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and affiliates, the Center will be an impactful and essential focus of research, education, teacher training, and public programming,” YU explained.


Some 30 rescuers attended a special event organized by the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous

An illustrative photo of Righteous Among the Nations medal belonging to Marta Bocheńska who helped s

An illustrative photo of Righteous Among the Nations medal belonging to Marta Bocheńska who helped save Halina Buchwald in Warsaw during the Holocaust.. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

During the dark days of the Holocaust, more than 27,000 thousand non-Jewish men, women and teenagers risked their lives to save their Jewish neighbors and friends from a certain death at the hands of the Nazis.

On Sunday, a special event in Warsaw on Sunday to honor Polish Righteous Among the Nations who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust was held by the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR).

Some 30 Polish rescuers – who today are in their eighties, nineties and even hundreds – attended the event with their families.

“These righteous gentiles are dwindling in number, such that the JFR luncheon is likely to be among the last of such commemorations of its kind,” the organization said in a statement.

The JFR’s website explained that the organization “provides monthly financial assistance to the aged and needy Righteous Gentiles living in 18 countries.”

“The majority of the rescuers receiving financial support live in Eastern Europe, with Poland having the largest number of rescuers,” according to the site.

As of September 1, the JFR said it gives financial assistance to a total of 275 aged and needy rescuers, including 147 Polish rescuers, 37 rescuers in the Ukraine, 23 in Lithuania, 12 in Belarus and 11 in Hungary.

Although such events are held by the JFR, Sunday’s was extra special as it also served as the launch event for the partnership between the organization and Warsaw’s first kosher food bank, which launched earlier this year under the leadership of Poland’s chief rabbi Michael Schudrich, with the support and guidance of Yad Ezra of Detroit.

The food pantry, based in the Nozyk Synagogue complex, will provide food packages bimonthly to righteous gentile rescuers who are in need.

The event was also attended by foreign diplomats, as well as religious and community leaders, who spoke at the gathering.

Israeli ambassador-designate Alexandre Ben-Zvi paid his respects, while the US deputy chief of mission Bix Aliu, who is of Albanian heritage, paid tribute to their extraordinary courage.

“The JFR provides monthly financial support to some 147 aged and needy Polish rescuers,” the foundation said. “In the calendar year 2019, the JFR will send approximately US $600,000 to rescuers living in Poland.”

JFR executive vice president Stanlee Stahl said that “these are heroic people of exceptional character who risked their lives and often the lives of their families to save Jews during the Holocaust.”

“This special event is designed to recognize them and give them the proper honor they deserve,” Stahl said. “While we have been doing this event for some time, this is a special year with the opening of the food bank.

“Having developed food banks in the United States, I personally know the positive impact they have on families, so I am very happy we can play a role in the creation of the facility in Warsaw and utilize it as a local base through which to provide support to Polish rescuers,” she added.

During her address, she highlighted the actions of two brothers who were in attendance. Andrzej and Leszek Mikolajkow, together with their parents, saved a Jewish mother, father and two sons. One of the sons moved to Israel and had 12 sons of his own. Today, the family numbers about 300.

“You made it possible for hundreds – if not thousands – of people to be alive today,” Stahl told the brothers. “You have helped repair the world.”

THE JFR first funded eight rescuers, and that number quickly grew, reaching 1,800. Now, as the rescuers age and pass on, the number of them receiving support is declining; however, the foundation continues to receive new applications.

The foundation also does its best to provide “one-time grants for the purchase of food during the Christmas holiday season to rescuers living in Poland and other Eastern European countries,” depending on availability of funds, it said.

In 2018, the JFR distributed approximately $1.1 million in direct support of Righteous Gentiles.

All those being funded have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.

Yad Vashem defines Righteous Among the Nations as “non-Jews who took great risks to save Jews during the Holocaust. Rescue took many forms, and the Righteous came from different nations, religions and walks of life.

“What they had in common was that they protected their Jewish neighbors at a time when hostility and indifference prevailed,” the Holocaust remembrance center said.

According to Yad Vashem, as of January 1, there are 27,362 people recognized as Righteous Among the Nations, including nearly 7,000 Polish men and women.

The center also stressed that “the numbers of Righteous recognized do not reflect the full extent of help given by non-Jews to Jews during the Holocaust,” and that it is “rather based on the material and documentation that was made available to Yad Vashem.”

Yad Vashem made it clear that “most Righteous were recognized following requests made by the rescued Jews,” however, sometimes survivors were unable to “overcome the difficulty of grappling with the painful past and didn’t come forward.” Others “were not aware of the program or couldn’t apply, especially people who lived behind the Iron Curtain during the years of Communist regime in Eastern Europe.”

Yad Vashem also pointed out that survivors may have also died “before they could make the request.”

Demonstrators hang plaque honoring Lithuanian Nazi collaborator

Vilnius municipality had earlier removed a memorial to Jonas Noreika, who is believed to have personally overseen the murder of Jews when the Nazis controlled Lithuania

This memorial plaque to Nazi collaborator Jonas Noreika was removed from the Library of Academy of science in Vilnius in July 2019, but demonstrators reinstalled a new one in September. (Alma Pater/Wikimedia Commons via JTA)

This memorial plaque to Nazi collaborator Jonas Noreika was removed from the Library of Academy of science in Vilnius in July 2019, but demonstrators reinstalled a new one in September. (Alma Pater/Wikimedia Commons via JTA)

Demonstrators in Lithuania’s capital city installed without a permit a plaque honoring a Nazi collaborator after the municipality had an earlier plaque dedicated to him removed.

Nationalists hastily mounted the plaque they had made for Jonas Noreika in Vilnius on Thursday, on an external wall of the Wroblewski Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences, during a demonstration against the removal of an earlier monument honoring him in July.

The Jewish Community of Lithuania condemned the decision to mount another plaque for Noreika to replace the one it and the Simon Wiesenthal Center had lobbied for years to have removed. That plaque was smashed in April and repaired, and then removed in July by order of Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius.

“We urge the Lithuanian authorities to remove the new plaque and prosecute those responsible for breaking the law” in installing it, Efraim Zuroff, the Center’s Eastern Europe director, wrote.

The library whose wall again features a plaque for Noreika told the BNS news agency it does not intend to have the plaque removed.

Dutch museum defends exhibition on Nazi design, denies glorifying Nazis

Museum in Den Bosch bans photography at ‘Design of the Third Reich’ exhibit; opening met with protests

Design Museum Den Bosch (Google Maps)

Design Museum Den Bosch (Google Maps)

A museum in the Netherlands has banned visitors from taking pictures of an exhibition on design during the Third Reich to prevent any Nazi glorification on social media.

The Design Museum Den Bosch also put extra security in each room of the “Design of the Third Reich” exhibit as it opened Sunday.

On its website, the museum says the exhibition is aimed at showing the “contribution of design to the development of the evil Nazi ideology.”

According to the Guardian, the exhibit has been criticized by the Association of Dutch Anti-fascists. Members of the local communist party held a protest near the museum’s entrance as it opened Sunday.

Timo de Rijk, the museum’s director, said he assured the protesters the exhibit would not glorify the Nazis.

“They are concerned that maybe we are glorifying it all. I would not be doing this if I thought we were, but I can understand that they are aware of that kind of evil in history,” he told the British newspaper.

De Rijk also said he was not aware of plans by either far-right or far-left figures to visit the museum.

“From the start we explain that this was a racist ideology and that the party’s aim was to establish a racist volk culture. The exhibition has the feel of a documentary,” he said.

Though the exhibit includes items on loan from the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin and the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich, neither partnered with the Den Bosch museum due to the sensitivity of the issue, the Guardian said.

Dallas Holocaust museum expands focus to other genocides, human rights struggles

Museum opening Sept. 18 is five times bigger than in previous location; greater scope aims to remind visitors of Holocaust lessons’ ongoing relevance

In this July 29, 2019, photo, Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum President and CEO, Mary Pat Higgins, pauses as she gives a tour of the museum in Dallas, to look at a wall size image of Jews marching. When Dallas’ Holocaust museum reopens in a few weeks it will not only be in a new building five times the size of its previous location, but will take visitors on a journey that also includes modern-day genocides and the evolution of human and civil rights in the U.S. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

In this July 29, 2019, photo, Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum President and CEO, Mary Pat Higgins, pauses as she gives a tour of the museum in Dallas, to look at a wall size image of Jews marching. When Dallas’ Holocaust museum reopens in a few weeks it will not only be in a new building five times the size of its previous location, but will take visitors on a journey that also includes modern-day genocides and the evolution of human and civil rights in the U.S. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

DALLAS (AP) — When the Holocaust museum in Dallas opens the doors to its new building, visitors will be not only learning about the mass murder of Jews during World War II but also other genocides that have happened around the world, as well as human rights struggles in the US

The newly renamed Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum is the latest in the US to broaden its permanent exhibit and embolden its efforts to inspire visitors to take action to make the world a better place.

Expanding the focus to include more recent atrocities and human rights struggles helps draw in more visitors to be reminded that the lessons from the Holocaust are still relevant.

The museum opening Sept. 18 in Dallas is five times bigger than its previous location — a jump from 6,000 square feet (557 sq. meters) to 55,000 square feet (5,110 sq. meters). Museum officials hope for 200,000 visitors a year — more than double the previous figure.

The Holocaust Museum Houston has already seen a jump in visitors since reopening in June after a renovation and expansion that more than doubled its size. The primary focus of the original museum was the Holocaust, but it now details other genocides and has tributes to human rights leaders including Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, who as a child in Pakistan began advocating for girls’ education.

“We look at it like as: if we can get them in the door and attract them on — it might be something like a social activism — then they can also benefit from learning about the Holocaust when they’re here,” said Kelly Zuniga, CEO of the Houston museum.

In this July 29, 2019, photo, Mary Pat Higgins, President and CEO of the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum in Dallas stands in a large theatre that was under construction. The theatre is a 250-seat Cinemark NextGen Theater with a 50-foot screen. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

In Cincinnati, the Nancy and David Wolf Holocaust and Humanity Center’s move in January into Union Terminal train station meant that it could include a gallery showcasing people who have made positive changes in their community. “We examine individuals who stood up and who seized the moment and we talk about their character strengths,” said Jodi Elowitz, the center’s education director.

Two years ago the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie opened as part of its permanent exhibit the Take a Stand Center, which is focused on human rights. “Hopefully they’re getting knowledge, they’re finding their passion or their particular cause or issue that they’re interested in,” said Kelley Szany, vice president of education and exhibitions for the museum.

The Dallas museum’s orientation video asks the question: Why should visitors care?

“The rest of the museum goes on to not answer the question, because we don’t provide answers. We do provide direction. We expect you to be able to answer the question however you were impacted,” said Eddie Jacobs, who designed the exhibit with fellow Berenbaum Jacobs Associates founder Michael Berenbaum.

The gallery detailing genocides that happened before and after the Holocaust uses sculpture and graphic novels to help visitors understand the tactics that led to the mass killings. The sculpture on the mass murder of Tutsis by the Hutus in Rwanda in 1994 includes machetes and victims’ racial identification cards. A graphic novel notes that polarization tactics that led to the genocide included Tutsis being referred to as cockroaches, pointing out that the Nazis portrayed Jews as rats and poisonous mushrooms.

In this July 29, 2019, photo, an exhibit hangs from the ceiling in part of the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum in Dallas. This area of the museum educates visitors of genocide. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

The last stage of the visit turns to the US for an exploration of how American ideals compare to reality, Berenbaum said. Visitors use interactive touchscreens to explore their own attitudes and biases. As they end their visit, they can learn about volunteer opportunities.

“The Holocaust is remembered. The question then becomes deeper: How is it remembered and what are we to do with that memory?” Berenbaum said.

Max Glauben, who as Jewish teenager from Poland spent time in Nazi concentration camps, where his parents and brother were killed, helped found the Dallas museum. Glauben, who immigrated to the US after WWII, hopes the museum inspires people to take inventory of their own lives.

“Maybe after seeing all this they realize that maybe we should become better,” said Glauben, 91.

Germany asks for Poland’s forgiveness 80 years after WWII outbreak

‘We want to remember and we will remember,’ says Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Polish city of Wielun, where first World War II bombs fell 80 years ago

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, right, and Polish President Andrzej Duda, left, attend ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of World War II, in Wielun, Poland,  Sept. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, right, and Polish President Andrzej Duda, left, attend ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of World War II, in Wielun, Poland, Sept. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

WIELUN, Poland (AFP) — German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Sunday asked Poland’s forgiveness for history’s bloodiest conflict during a ceremony in the Polish city of Wielun, where the first World War II bombs fell 80 years ago.

“I bow my head before the victims of the attack on Wielun. I bow my head before the Polish victims of Germany’s tyranny. And I ask forgiveness,” Steinmeier said in both German and Polish.

That figure includes the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust, half of them Polish.

A video installation runs at the memorial service during a ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II, in Wielun, Poland, Sept. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

“It is the Germans who committed a crime against humanity in Poland. Anyone who claims it is over, that the national-socialists’ reign of terror over Europe is a marginal event in German history, judges that for himself,” Steinmeier added in the presence of his Polish counterpart.

The line appeared to be a clear reference to the German far-right, whose co-leader Alexander Gauland once called the 12-year Third Reich a “speck of bird poop” in an otherwise glorious German past.

“We will never forget. We want to remember and we will remember,” Steinmeier said.

Spectators hold candles at the memorial service during a ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II, in Wielun, Poland, Sept. 1, 2019 (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Polish President Andrzej Duda for his part denounced Nazi Germany’s attack on Poland, calling it “an act of barbarity” and “a war crime.”

“I am convinced that this ceremony will go down in the history of Polish-German friendship,” he added, thanking Steinmeier for his presence.

‘Smoke, noise, explosions’

The heads of state will later tour the Wielun museum and meet with local survivors of the September 1, 1939 bombing.

“I saw dead bodies, the wounded… Smoke, noise, explosions. Everything was burning,” Wielun bombing survivor Tadeusz Sierandt, 88, told AFP ahead of the anniversary.

The carpet-bombing came one week after Germany and the Soviet Union secretly agreed to carve up Eastern Europe between them by signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans attended a separate dawn remembrance Sunday in Westerplatte, where a Nazi German battleship opened fire on a Polish fort on September 1, 1939.

Hitler’s attacks on Poland led Britain and France to declare war on Nazi Germany. On September 17, the Soviet Union in turn invaded Poland.

After the Nazis tore up the pact with Moscow, two alliances battled it out to the end: the Axis powers led by Germany, Italy and Japan and the victorious Allied forces led by Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States.

Later Sunday, US Vice President Mike Pence, Steinmeier and Duda will deliver speeches at a ceremony in Warsaw’s Pilsudski Square, the site of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

No Johnson, Putin, Trump

Though it has been 80 years since the war started, there are still unresolved matters according to Poland, which says Germany owes it war reparations.

A parliamentary commission is currently working on a new analysis of the extent of Poland’s wartime human and material losses. Berlin, however, believes the case is closed.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will attend the Warsaw ceremony, but no other major world leaders are expected.

This file photo taken between September 1942 and February 1943 shows German soldiers during the battle of Stalingrad. (AFP)

US President Donald Trump had planned to attend the war commemorations but cancelled at the last minute so that he could monitor Hurricane Dorian.

Also not attending are French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, while Russian President Vladimir Putin was not invited — unlike 10 years ago — because of Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

The Polish presidency had said the commemorations would be attended by around 40 foreign delegations, a few of them led by heads of state.

They include Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky whose partnership matters to Poland, which believes its security depends on Ukraine remaining outside of Russia’s sphere of influence.

Duda said Poland wants neighbor “Ukraine to be closer to the European Union, to be closer to NATO” after meeting with Zelensky in Warsaw on Saturday.