A new story-based exhibition is open at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, allowing visitors to explore and think about the concepts of collaboration and complicity of individuals during the Holocaust.
Entitled “Some Were Neighbors,” the exhibition, which took nearly six years to complete and was underwritten in part by grants from the David Berg Foundation, the Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, the Benjamin and Seema Pulier Foundation, the Lester Robbins and Sheila Johnson Robbins Traveling and Special Exhibitions Fund (established in 1990) and Sy and Laurie Sternberg, has been open since the museum’s 20th anniversary on April 28 and will stay at the museum for several years.
Susan Bachrach, curator of special exhibitions explained that “Some Were Neighbors” represents the museum’s shift to large thematic exhibitions that help people understand how the Holocaust was possible.
“It reflects our educational programming of ‘why,’ and asks visitors to focus on ordinary people and think beyond Hitler and the Nazi regime, which is the typical way to think about the Holocaust,” she said.
Bachrach added that the word “neighbor” was chosen to represent a variety of people including workers, teenagers, policemen, religious leaders, teachers and friends, many of whom turned against their Jewish peers during the Holocaust.
“For many survivors, the most painful memories they have are with betrayal,” she said. “We use neighbor here as a metaphor for someone close to you to evoke that connection and to make visitors realize that we’re talking about ordinary people.”
Opening with the quote, “At crucial junctures, every individual makes decisions and … every decision is individual,” by Raul Hilberg, a refugee from Nazism and a leading Holocaust scholar, Bachrach expl-ained that the exhibit shines a light on the individual stories of those who acted in a complicit manner during the Holocaust, explaining “the primary view is that Jews were killed in gas chambers. This presents a totally different perspective.”
Complete with a variety of stories, photos and artifacts, the exhibition highlights acts of complicity and collaboration through a variety of avenues including looting, taxation, deportation and killing.
The exhibition also features chilling video interviews with non-Jewish witnesses and perpetrators, many of whom carried out the execution of Jews during the Holocaust, to allow the visitor to explore the reasons and motives behind the complicity and collaboration including pressure, self-interest and anti-Semitism.
“Some Were Neighbors” ends with a “Reflect and Share” section encouraging visitors to think about the exhibit and what they would do in similar situations.
“We want people to ask themselves, ‘Would I have taken the risk to help?’ and think about their individual choices,” said Bachrach. “I hope people will be disturbed by this exhibition and that it will provoke people to think about the Holocaust and how it happened in a deeper way — what are our ethical and moral responsibilities that might ensure that this never happens again.”
To learn more about “Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration & Complicity in the Holocaust,” visit ushmm.org.