Holocaust Remembrance Day is a day for remembering the victims of the Holocaust and for reminding Americans of what can happen to people when bigotry, hatred and indifference reign.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Council was created by act of Congress in 1980 and leads the nation in civic commemorations as well as encourages appropriate Remembrance observances throughout the country. For weeks many local museums and temples have been preparing for special events, including the display of Holocaust memorabilia. Through screenings, special exhibits and dedications of permanent shrines, they seek to remind and warn.
When it comes to collecting the physical history of the Holocaust many are torn about it, especially the horrific images and Nazi items. As with Black Americana many feel the collecting such items is a perverse action (in some cases driving people to buy things just to destroy them), and this controversy has made many places, like eBay, forbid the sales of Nazi items. But there are other dealers who specialize in Judaica including Holocaust artifacts. These dealers and collectors, as well as historians feel there is more to collecting such items than meets the horror-filled eye.
“Why do some Jews collect Holocaust material?” asked Wyatt Houston Day of the Swann Galleries in Manhattan, who organizes an annual auction of African-Americana. “Any people who endure a Holocaust tend to collect, out of a lest-we-forget impulse. It is very much akin to what happened to blacks, and the objects are just as vile.”
While many survivors and their families collect Holocaust items, there are many others who also do in order to preserve history. And there are also many Jewish people who do so as part of their heritage and faith — feeling compelled to preserve the items and become transformed in this shrine to ‘The Great Sacrifice.’
In his book ‘Selling Hitler’ – which deals with the events surrounding the Hitler diary forgeries – the author, Robert Harris, writes: ‘It has been estimated that there are 50,000 collectors of Nazi memorabilia throughout the world, of whom most are Americans, involved in a business which is said to have an annual turnover of $50-million. Prices increase 20 percent a year… In the States, according to Charles Hamilton (a leading dealer), ‘the collectors of Hitler memorabilia are 40 percent Jewish, 50 percent old soldiers, and 10 percent of them are young….’
Nazi items are part of the story of what has happened and as such fit into collection in context. In this sense collecting Nazi items is not to resurrect any such ideals; in fact, it is to the contray serving to remind us that as shocking as this all is, this was done by humans to other humans.
Like most items of historical value, personal collectors are often asked to donate their own collections to museums or temple collections where they can be shown to the public as well as to make sure they are properly cared for. As collectors age they or their families are encouraged to contact credible organizations to donate these items, preserving them for future generations.
Another important part of the story are the personal stories of survivors.
One of the programs the United States Holocaust Memorial Council offers is the The Memory Project (based on the “Leave-A-Legacy” Writing Workshops developed by the Drew University Center for Holocaust/Genocide Study). The Memory Project offers writing workshops to help Holocaust survivors create a record, for their family members and the historical archives, of their experiences and memories. If you know a survivor, please urge them today to add their personal story to the larger story. It’s important for all of us.