Throughout time, humanity has struggled with their sense of national identity. Who are they? Where did they come from, and what is their background? Various ethnic groups have had their sense of pride and national identity stripped from them through exploitation, racism, slavery, and colonialism. As our initiative's focus is to show the devastating effects of war, the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park, New York is the textbook honorable example we plan on following.
The Museum of Jewish Heritage is a living memorial to the Holocaust, which was one of the most repulsive crimes committed against an ethnic group in world history. The Holocaust was the systematic executions and genocide of the Jews during World War II based on their faith by the Nazi government of Germany and their collaborators throughout the world. Over 6 million Jews perished in the targeted persecution and millions were left homeless without and identity or means to start their lives over again. The Museum of Jewish Heritage explains their story pre-World War 1 and 2.
There are three levels of the museum. Level 1 is called Jewish Life a Century Ago: 1880 – 1930. Level 2 is The War against the Jews: 1930 – 1945, and level 3 is Jewish Renewal: 1945 – Present. Level 1 showed how the Jewish communities interacted with other ethnicities and races across the world. This exhibit starts at the year 1880, where empires either reached their peak (British, French, Italian) and other empires were showing signs of their collapse (Ottoman, German, and Russian). There were large Jewish communities in North Africa (Tunisia and Algeria), the Middle East (Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, and Yemen) and in Europe (both Western and Eastern). Though the ancient Hebrew homeland of the Jews (the Kingdom of Israel) was stripped from them by the Roman Empire, around this time in history there wasn’t much conflict between other faiths or ethnicities against those who practice Judaism. Jews enjoyed the highest honors of having the most respectable jobs in various nations that they resided in. They were doctors, teachers, historians, accountants, etc. and world government relied on them as the backbone of their economies. Then World War 1 came looming in, due to growing rise of nationalistic movements in countries such as Austria, Germany, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Various atrocities and genocides took place, but not against those of Jewish faith. Particularly, the ethnicities that faced genocide were Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians, who were all encompassed inside of the Ottoman Empire and targeted by the Young Turks in their policy of “purifying Turkey.” Post WW1 saw the collapsed of the Second Reich (German Empire) and loss for the Central Powers. From this, a gang of misfits used this opportunity to use their bigotry and hatred against the Jewish community. They were known as the Nazis. The Nazis compromised of Adolf Hitler, Josef Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, and Herman Goering as their leaders and they primarily attacked those of Jewish faith to their rise to power. The Nazis officially took power in 1932 when Hitler and his party won the general elections of 1932 and immediately began a targeted persecution against Hebrews, such as segregation, anti-Jewish laws, and abductions of intellectuals.
Level 2 is The War against the Jews: 1930 – 1945 explained in detail the segregation of Jews by placing the Star of David on as an armband to distinguish them from regular Germans and placing them in very constricted ghettos, such as the infamous one in Warsaw, Poland. When Nazi Germany ignited World War II by invading Poland, they used a systematic campaign of rounding up Jewish people throughout Europe. They did this with the help of the SS, Gestapo, and Nazi sympathizers and collaborators in Austria, France, Bulgaria, and other areas in the Middle East and North Africa. A particular mural on the second floor that shocked me was an explanation of how the entire world knew about the Holocaust, yet refused to act on the atrocities. Various American businessmen did business with the Nazis and were complicit with the forced labor camps of Jews since it benefited their own profits. One such examples is the Volkswagen car company that knowingly used forced labor to make their vehicles. Denmark was the only Nazi occupied country that helped their Jewish population by sneaking them onto aid ships and sending them to Sweden, out of Gestapo reach. Every country Nazi Germany conquered, they placed a proxy government inside of that said country so that their collaborators either send Jews to their death in Poland or Austria, or had their collaborators and army kill them right then and there. It is interesting to note that almost none of these concentration or death camps were in mainland Germany, as most the public had no idea that their government was committing these horrific acts. When the war finally ended, millions of Jewish people lost their lives with millions more left homeless, as they could no longer trust their world governments to keep them safe anymore.
Level 3 is Jewish Renewal: 1945 – Present explains how the Jewish community thrived post Holocaust and kept their determination and faith. The British Empire forged the nation of Israel to the Jews, allowing them to return to their ancestral homelands in the Middle East. Many Jews from the Far East (Soviet Union), Western Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa all fled to Israel to start a new life, as they felt safe and secure in their own country of governance. Post WWII saw the Jewish community thrive like it has always thrived throughout its history. Facing persecutions and genocides throughout time, the Jews have held onto their national identity and self of pride. I would recommend this museum to anyone willing to visit this extraordinary and acclaimed place.
Aside from the teachings of Jewish history, the museum offer other services that allows you to interact with the community. Such events are the Hanukkah Gala, film screenings, Shabbat dinners, opportunities to engage with Holocaust survivors, and special previews of groundbreaking exhibitions. The museum even has a memorial garden dedicated to the fallen that the entire New York community can see. Overall, the Museum of Jewish Heritage is a once in a lifetime event that I would recommend to anyone to see. This heart wrenching place can touch even the darkest soul and is worth every penny of your time.