An Open Letter to the Director of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum

US Holocaust Memorial Museum

JVL Introduction

Following the decision of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) to condemn the use of Holocaust analogies, two hundred and twenty distinguished scholars in the humanities and social sciences, strong supporters of the USHMM, have written an open letter to the Director of the museum.

In it they argue that taking this position that is far removed from mainstream scholarship on the Holocaust and genocide, and  makes learning from the past almost impossible.



Source: New York Review of Books, July 2019

Omer Bartov, Doris Bergen, Andrea Orzoff, Timothy Snyder, and Anika Walke, et al.


On June 17, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, posted an Instagram live video discussing the detention camps along the southern US border as “concentration camps” in which she used the phrase “Never Again.” This drew sharp criticism the following day from Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, and others for allegedly misappropriating a slogan associated with the Holocaust. After several days of heated media and political debate, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum released a statement on June 24 condemning the use of Holocaust analogies. We received the following open letter addressed to the director of the museum, Sara J. Bloomfield, delivered by the signatories on July 1.

—The Editors, New York Review of Books


To Director Bloomfield:

We are scholars who strongly support the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Many of us write on the Holocaust and genocide; we have researched in the USHMM’s library and archives or served as fellows or associated scholars; we have been grateful for the Museum’s support and intellectual community. Many of us teach the Holocaust at our universities, and have drawn on the Museum’s online resources. We support the Museum’s programs from workshops to education.

We are deeply concerned about the Museum’s recent “Statement Regarding the Museum’s Position on Holocaust Analogies.” We write this public letter to urge its retraction.

Scholars in the humanities and social sciences rely on careful and responsible analysis, contextualization, comparison, and argumentation to answer questions about the past and the present. By “unequivocally rejecting efforts to create analogies between the Holocaust and other events, whether historical or contemporary,” the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is taking a radical position that is far removed from mainstream scholarship on the Holocaust and genocide. And it makes learning from the past almost impossible.

The Museum’s decision to completely reject drawing any possible analogies to the Holocaust, or to the events leading up to it, is fundamentally ahistorical. It has the potential to inflict severe damage on the Museum’s ability to continue its role as a credible, leading global institution dedicated to Holocaust memory, Holocaust education, and research in the field of Holocaust and genocide studies. The very core of Holocaust education is to alert the public to dangerous developments that facilitate human rights violations and pain and suffering; pointing to similarities across time and space is essential for this task.

Looking beyond the academic context, we are well aware of the many distortions and inaccuracies, intentional or not, that frame contemporary discussions of the Holocaust. We are not only scholars. We are global citizens who participate in public discourse, as does the Museum as an institution, and its staff. We therefore consider it essential that the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum reverse its position on careful historical analysis and comparison. We hope the Museum continues to help scholars establish the Holocaust’s significance as an event from which the world must continue to learn.

Signed:

Natalia Aleksiun, Professor of Modern Jewish History, Touro College
Claire Andrieu, Professor of Contemporary History, Sciences Po, Paris, France
Emily Abrams Ansari, Associate Professor of Music History, Western University, Canada
Tarik Cyril Amar, Koç University
Kwame Anthony Appiah, Professor of Philosophy and Law, NYU
Celia Applegate, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of History, Vanderbilt University
Leora Auslander, Arthur and Joann Rasmussen Professor of Western Civilization in the College and Professor of Modern European Social History in the History Department, University of Chicago
Shelley Baranowski, Distinguished Professor of History Emerita, University of Akron
Ben Barkow, Director, The Wiener Library, London
Omer Bartov, John P. Birkelund Distinguished Professor of European History, Professor of German Studies, Brown University
Waitman Wade Beorn, Lecturer, Corcoran Department Of History, University of Virginia
Max Bergholz, Associate Professor of History, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada
David Biale, Emanuel Ringelblum Distinguished Professor, University of California–Davis
Natalie Belsky, Assistant Professor of History, University of Minnesota–Duluth
Elissa Bemporad, Associate Professor of East European Jewish History and the Holocaust, Queens College and The Graduate Center, City University of New York
Doris Bergen, Chancellor Rose and Ray Wolfe Professor of Holocaust Studies, University of Toronto, Canada
Frank Biess, Professor of History, University of California–San Diego
Monica Black, Associate Professor of History, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
David Blackbourn, Cornelius Vanderbilt Distinguished Chair and Professor of History, Vanderbilt University
Muriel Blaive, Ústav pro studium totalitních režimu (Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes), Prague, Czech Republic
Benita Blessing, Instructor, World Languages and Cultures, Oregon State University
Donald Bloxham, Professor of Modern History, University of Edinburgh, UK
Paul Boghossian, Silver Professor of Philosophy, NYU
Andrea F. Bohlman, Associate Professor of Music, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
James M. Brophy, Professor of History, University of Delaware
Diana Kormos Buchwald, Robert M. Abbey Professor of History, General Editor and Director, The Einstein Papers Project, California Institute of Technology
Darcy Buerkle, Associate Professor, Department of History, Smith College
Joy H. Calico, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Musicology, Vanderbilt University
Carlo Spartaco Capogreco, Associate Professor of Contemporary History, University of Calabria, Italy
Karen D. Caplan, Associate Professor of History, Rutgers University, Newark
Holly Case, Associate Professor of History, Brown University
Michael Casper, University of California-Los Angeles; former Mandel Center Research Fellow
Brigid Cohen, Associate Professor of Music, New York University
Anna Cichopek-Gajraj, Associate Professor of Modern Polish-Jewish History, Arizona State University
Tim Cole, Professor of Social History and Director of the Brigstow Institute, University of Bristol, UK
Alon Confino, Pen Tishkach Chair of Holocaust Studies, University of Massachussetts–Amherst
N.D.B. Connolly, Herbert Baxter Adams Associate Professor, Johns Hopkins University
Manuela Consonni, Professor, Pela And Adam Starkopf Chair in Holocaust Studies, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
Seth Cotlar, Professor of History, Willamette University
Stef Craps, Professor of English Literature, Director, Cultural Memory Studies Initiative, Ghent University, Belgium
Brian Crim, Associate Professor of History, John M. Turner Chair in the Humanities, Lynchburg University
Sarah Cushman, Northwestern University
Christoph Dieckmann, Research Fellow, University of Bern, Switzerland/Germany
Daniella Doron, Senior Lecturer in Jewish History, Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation, Monash University, Australia
Lawrence Douglas, James J. Grosfeld Professor of Law, Jurisprudence & Social Thought, Amherst College
Theodora Dragostinova, Associate Professor of History, Ohio State University
Elizabeth Drummond, Associate Professor and Chair of History, Loyola Marymount University
Diana Dumitru, Associate Professor of History, Ion Creanga State Pedagogical University, Moldova
Deborah Dwork, Founding Director Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Clark University
Hilary Earl, Professor of HIstory, Nipissing University
Astrid M. Eckert, Associate Professor of History, Emory University
Rachel L. Einwohner, Professor of Sociology and (by courtesy) Political Science, Purdue University
Jennifer Evans, Professor of History, Carleton University
Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi, Professor of Comparative Literature, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Scott Ferguson, Associate Professor of Humanities & Cultural Studies, University of South Florida
Gabriel Finder, Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures, Ida and Nathan Kolodiz Director of Jewish Studies, University of Virginia
Eugene Finkel, Associate Professor, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University
Darcie Fontaine, Associate Professor of History, University of South Florida
Richard E. Frankel, Richard G. Neiheisel Professor in European History, University of Louisiana at Lafayette
David M.P. Freund, Associate Professor of History, University of Maryland, College Park
Jonathan Friedman, Professor and Director of Holocaust and Genocide Studies, West Chester University
Danielle Fosler-Lussier, Professor of Music, Ohio State University
Kathie Friedman, Associate Professor of International Studies, Jackson School, University of Washington
Benjamin Frommer, Associate Professor of History, Northwestern University
Mary Fulbrook, Professor of German History, University College London (UCL), UK
Alison Furlong, American Religious Sounds Project
Libby Garland, Associate Professor of History, Kingsborough Community College and The Graduate Center, The City University of New York
Alexandra Garbarini, Professor of History, Williams College
Christian Gerlach, Professor of Modern History, University of Bern, Switzerland
Judith Gerson, Associate Professor of Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies, Rutgers University
Amos Goldberg, Professor at The Department of Jewish History and Contemporary Jewry, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
L. Janelle Gornick, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Virginia Military Institute
Henry Greenspan, Emeritus, University of Michigan
Simone Gigliotti, Holocaust Research Institute, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK
Dorota Glowacka, University of King’s College, Canada
Jan Grabowski, Professor of History, University of Ottawa
Ronald Granieri, Army War College
Emily Greble, Associate Professor of History and East European Studies, Vanderbilt University
Julie Greene, Professor of History, University of Maryland at College Park
Glenda E. Gilmore, Peter V. and C Vann Woodward Professor of History Emeritus, Yale University
Atina Grossmann, Professor of History in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Cooper Union, New York City
Amanda F. Grzyb, Associate Professor of Information and Media Studies, Western University
Edin Hajdarpasic, Associate Professor of Modern European History, Loyola University Chicago
Anna Hajkova, Associate Professor of History, University of Warwick, UK
Valerie Hebert, Associate Professor, Lakehead University Orillia, Canada
Susanne Heim, University of Freiburg
Elizabeth Heineman, Professor of History and of Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies, University of Iowa
Daniel Kupfert Heller, Kronhill Senior Lecturer in East European Jewish History, Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation, Monash University, Australia
Deborah Hertz, Professor of History, Wouk Chair in Modern Jewish Studies, University of California San Diego
Benjamin Hett, Professor of History, Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York
Jim Hicks, Executive Editor, The Massachusetts Review, Senior Lecturer in Comparative Literature, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Susanne Hillman, San Diego State University/University of California, San Diego
Marianne Hirsch, William Peterfield Trent Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University
Janine Holc, Associate Professor, Political Science Department, Loyola University
Anna Holian, Associate Professor of History, Arizona State University
Judith M. Hughes, Professor Emerita of History, University of California, San Diego
Natalia Indrimi, Centro Primo Levi NY
Christian Ingrao, Senior Researcher Institut d’Histoire du Temps Présent, CNRS/Université, Paris, France
Paul Jaskot, Professor of Art, Art History and Visual Studies, Duke University
Tomaz Jardim, Associate Professor of History, Ryerson University, Canada
Adam Jones, Professor of Political Science, University of British Columbia Okanagan
Ari Joskowicz, Associate Professor of Jewish Studies, European Studies, and History, Vanderbilt University
Jonathan Judaken, Spence L. Wilson Chair in the Humanities, Rhodes College
Robin Judd, Associate Professor of History, Ohio State University
Pieter M. Judson, Professor of 19th and 20th Century History, European University Institute, Florence, Italy
Irene Kacandes, Dartmouth Professor of German Studies and Comparative Literature, Dartmouth College
Brett Kaplan, Professor of Literature, University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign
Marion Kaplan, Skirball Professor of Modern Jewish History, New York University
Ari Kelman, Chancellor’s Leadership Professor of History, University of California–Davis
Ben Kiernan, A.Whitney Griswold Professor of History, Yale University
Rebekah Klein-Pejšová, Associate Professor of History, Purdue University
Adam Knowles, Assistant Teaching Professor of Philosophy, Drexel University
Anne Knowles, McBride Professor of History, University of Maine
Jeffrey S. Kopstein, Professor of Political Science, University of California–Irvine
Alexander Korb, Associate Professor in Modern European History, University of Leicester, UK
Jacques Kornberg, Professor Emeritus, Department of History, University of Toronto, Canada
Kevin M. Kruse, Professor of History, Princeton University
Thomas Kühne, Director, Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Clark University
Regina Kunzel, Doris Stevens Chair and Professor of History and Gender and Sexuality Studies, Princeton University
Barry Langford, Professor of Film Studies and Member, Holocaust Research Institute, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK
Kenneth F. Ledford, Associate Professor of History and Law, Case Western Reserve University; Chair, Department of History; Co-Director, Max Kade Center for German Studies
Daniel Lee, Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow, Department of History, University of Sheffield, UK
Laurel Leff, Associate Professor of Journalism, Northeastern University
Paul Lerner, Professor of History and Director, Max Kade Institute for Austrian-German-Swiss Studies, University of Southern California
Beth Lew-Williams, Assistant Professor of History, Princeton University
Mark Leuchter, Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Judaism, Director of Jewish Studies, Department of Religion, Temple University
Laura Levitt, Professor of Religion, Jewish Studies and Gender, Temple University
Thomas Lindenberger, Professor for Totalitarianism Studies, Hannah Arendt Institute at Technische Universität Dresden, Germany
Tabea Linhard, Professor of Spanish, Comparative Literature, and International and Area Studies, Washington University in St. Louis
David Luebke, Professor of History, University of Oregon
Aliza Luft, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of California–Los Angeles
Daniel H. Magilow, Professor of German, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Thomas Maher, Lecturer, Purdue University
Elissa Mailänder, Associate Professor of Gender History, History of Violence and Sexuality, Sciences Po, Paris, France
Barbara Mann, Chana Kekst Professor of Hebrew Literature, Jewish Theological Seminary, New York
Kate Manne, Associate Professor at the Sage School of Philosophy, Cornell University
Michael R. Marrus, Chancellor Rose and Ray Wolfe Professor Emeritus of Holocaust Studies, University of Toronto, Canada
Christopher E. Mauriello, Director, Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and Professor of History, Salem State University
Jared McBride, Lecturer in History, University of California–Los Angeles
Erin McGlothlin, Associate Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures and of Jewish, Islamic and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Washington University in St. Louis
Robert Melson, Professor Emeritus, Purdue University
David A. Messenger, Professor and Chair of History, University of South Alabama
Jolanta Mickutė, Professor of History, Vilnius University and The Lost Shtetl Museum, Vilnius, Lithuania
Karen Miller, Professor of History, LaGuardia Community College and The Graduate Center, The City University of New York
Guy Miron, Professor of History, Open University of Israel, Israel
Douglas G. Morris, Independent Scholar, Trial Attorney, Federal Defenders of New York, Inc.
Dirk Moses, Professor of Modern History, University of Sydney, Australia
Samuel Moyn, Henry R. Luce Professor of Jurisprudence and Professor of History, Yale University
Devin Naar, Associate Professor of History and Jewish Studies, University of Washington
Norman Naimark,  Robert and Florence McDonnell Professor of East European Studies, Stanford University
Stephen Naron, Director, Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies, Yale University
Benjamin Nathans, Associate Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania
Christian Axboe Nielsen, Associate Professor of History and Human Security, Aarhus University, Denmark
Bernhard Nickel, Professor of Philosophy, Harvard University
Carl Nightingale, Professor of Urban and World History, Department of Transnational Studies, University at Buffalo
Andrea Orzoff, Associate Professor of History and Honors, New Mexico State University
Troy Paddock, Professor of History, Southern Connecticut State University
Katrin Paehler, Associate Professor of History, Illinois State University
Avinoam Patt, Philip D. Feltman Professor of Modern Jewish History, Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies, University of Hartford
Devin Pendas, Professor of History, Boston College
Emily Richmond Pollock, Associate Professor of Music and Theater Arts, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Renée Poznanski, Head of the Simone Veil Research Centre for Contemporary European Studies, Yaacov and Poria Avnon Professor of Holocaust Studies, Department of Politics and Government (Emerita), Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel
Patrice G. Poutrus, Research Fellow, Universität Erfurt, Germany
Kim Christian Priemel, Professor of Contemporary European History, University of Oslo, Norway
Eric Rauchway, Professor of History, University of California–Davis
Ian Reifowitz, Professor of Historical Studies, SUNY–Empire State College
Michael Riff, Director, The Gross Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Ramapo College of New Jersey
Jennifer L. Rodgers, Research Assistant Professor of History and Assistant Editor, Einstein Papers Project, California Institute of Technology
Aron Rodrigue, Daniel E. Koshland Professor in Jewish Culture and History, Stanford University
Sven-Erik Rose, Associate Professor of German and of Comparative Literature, University of California, Davis
Mark Roseman, Distinguished Professor of History, Pat M Glazer Chair in Jewish Studies, Indiana University–Bloomington
Warren Rosenblum, Professor of History, Politics, and International Relations, Webster University
Michael Rothberg, 1939 Society Samuel Goetz Chair in Holocaust Studies, Professor of English and Comparative Literature, University of California–Los Angeles
Debarati Sanyal, Professor of French, University of California–Berkeley
Sandrine Sanos, Professor of Modern European History, Texas A & M University, Corpus Christi
Derek Sayer, Professor Emeritus of Sociology and (by courtesy) History, University of Alberta, Canada
Florian Scheding, Senior Lecturer in Music, University of Bristol, UK
Christine Schmidt, Deputy Director and Head of Research, The Wiener Library, London
Daniel J. Schroeter, Amos S. Deinard Memorial Chair in Jewish History, University of Minnesota
Raz Segal, Assistant Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Stockton UniversityJames J. Sheehan, Professor Emeritus, Department of History, Stanford University
Scott J. Shapiro, Charles F. Southmayd Professor of Law, Professor of Philosophy, Yale University
Noah Shenker, N. Milgrom & 6a Foundation Senior Lecturer, Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation, Monash University, Australia
David Shneer, Louis P. Singer Chair in Jewish History, Professor of History and Jewish Studies, University of Colorado–Boulder
Marci Shore, Associate Professor of History, Yale University
Susanna Siegel, Edgar Pierce Professor of Philosophy, Harvard University
Lewis Siegelbaum, Jack and Margaret Sweet Professor Emeritus, Department of History, Michigan State University
Sara Silverstein, Assistant Professor of History and Human Rights, University of Connecticut
Brad Simpson, Associate Professor of History and Asian Studies, University of Connecticut
Helene Sinnreich, Associate Professor, Religious Studies and Director, Fern and Manfred Steinfeld Program in Judaic Studies, University of Tennessee–Knoxville
William Smaldone, E. J. Whipple Professor of  History, Willamette University
Timothy Snyder, Richard C. Levin Professor of History, Yale University
Leo Spitzer, Vernon Professor of History, Emeritus, Dartmouth College
Martha Sprigge, Assistant Professor of Musicology, University of California, Santa Barbara
Jason Stanley, Jacob Urowsky Professor of Philosophy, Yale University
Richard Steigmann-Gall, Associate Professor of History and former Director of Jewish Studies, Kent State University
Sarah Abrevaya Stein, Professor of History, Maurice Amado Chair of Sephardic Studies and Sady and Ludwig Kahn Director, Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies, University of California–Los Angeles
Sybille Steinbacher, Professor of Holocaust Studies, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Alexandra Steinlight, Past & Present Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute of Historical Research, University of London
Oren Baruch Stier, Professor of Religious Studies, Director, Holocaust and Genocide Studies & Jewish Studies Certificate Program, Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs, Florida International University
Alexa Stiller, University of Bern
Dan Stone, Professor of Modern History and Director, Holocaust Research Institute, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK
Jelena Subotic, Professor of Political Science, Georgia State University
Annette Timm, Professor of History, University of Calgary, Canada
Barry Trachtenberg, Rubin Presidential Chair of Jewish History, Director, Jewish Studies Program, Wake Forest University
J. David Velleman, Professor of Philosophy and Bioethics, New York University
Nikolaus Wachsmann, Professor of Modern European History, Birkbeck College, University of London
Anika Walke, Associate Professor of History, Washington University in St. Louis
Ulrike Weckel, Professor of History in the Media and in the Public, Justus-Liebig University, Giessen
Joanne Weiner Rudof, Archivist Emeritus, Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies, Yale University
Alice Weinreb, Associate Professor of Modern History, Loyola University Chicago
Gary Weissman, Associate Professor of English and affiliate faculty member of Judaic Studies, University of Cincinnati
Eric D. Weitz, Distinguished Professor of History, City College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York
Rebecca Wittmann, Chair, Department of Historical Studies, University of Toronto Mississauga, Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Toronto, Canada
Diane Wolf, Professor of Sociology, University of California–Davis
Yoke-Sum Wong, Managing Editor, Journal of Historical Sociology, Alberta University of the Arts, Canada
Jamie L. Wraight, Director, The Voice/Vision Holocaust Oral History Archive, The University of Michigan–Dearborn
Stephenie Young, Faculty Research Associate at the Salem State University Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and Professor of English, Salem State University
Tara Zahra, Homer J. Livingston Professor of History, University of Chicago
Jonathan Zasloff, Professor of Law, University of California–Los Angeles
Steven Zipperstein, Daniel E. Koshland Professor in Jewish Culture and History, Stanford University

Comments (1)

  • Randy Burton says:

    There have been many holocausts in recorded history. Certainly the murder of millions of people of Jewish descent by Nazi Germany as part of Hitler’s “final solution”, is one of most horrible and well-documented. But, the Holocaust Museum has no ownership or copyright protection over the use of the terms “holocaust” or “never again”. While we must be careful in overusing these terms to describe the actions of governments or political movements when they engage in morally reprehensible behavior against groups of people, there are times when they must be used. One of those times is now.
    We are seeing the resurgence of dictatorial regimes across the world. Our own country, which for many points in our history has served as a beacon of light for immigrants and the victims of tyrants, is veering dangerously close to such regimes — cozying up to Russia, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia while disparaging our democratic allies in Europe and Canada. Though we opened our arms to immigrants for hundreds of years, we have hardly set a good example for others when it comes to the treatment of refugees, the incarceration of an entire people within our borders, or the decimation of an entire group of people when it has served our interests.
    Consider the United States’ refusal to thousands of desperate Jewish refugees fleeing Germany and Poland in 1939 aboard the M.S. St. Louis and the SS Drottningholm in 1942, forcing them to return home where they faced certain death. Or, the internment camps of loyal Japanese Americans in WWII. Or, the wholesale slaughter of as many as 20 million American Indians whose lands we stole. Or, the enslavement of over 10 million African slaves.
    Once again, our country is facing a turning point. Our Government has incarcerated tens of thousands of Hispanic refugees from Central America — men, women, and children — who have braved intolerable conditions to seek our help from brutal dictators and murderous gangs. How can we possibly consider it acceptable to turn these people away, much less separate little children from their parents and stack them like cordwood in cages? What sort of legal system has 2-year-old babies representing themselves in deportation cases?
    We have an autocratic president, surrounded by yes-men and women including spineless supporters in the U.S. House and Senate, who doesn’t know or care to know about history, the Bill of Rights, or the Rule of Law…A president who believes that such abhorrent treatment of desperate people is acceptable and encourages those in the Department of Homeland Security to do his dirty work, promising to pardon them for breaking our laws.
    If this policy does not receive our common condemnation, we cannot be surprised by the outcome.

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