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Mean Streets

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A new article about Holocaust Museums in the London-based online magazine called "Spiked" mentions LA's own Beit Hashoah Museum of Tolerance. Truthfully, Tiffany Jenkins, the author of the piece, gives the institution more of a scolding than props.

She writes:

The Beit Hashoah Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles transforms the history of the Holocaust into a discussion about everyday intolerance. It is suggested that there is a slippery slope between shouting and shoving, and world wars. Audiences are lectured that 'the potential of violence is within us all'.
But the Holocaust was an extreme and specific event, and it is not helpful to compare it to everyday rudeness. Doing so distorts our understanding of the power relationships and state organisation that developed in 1930s and 40s Germany. In addition, likening Auschwitz to the impact of the far right today is an insult to those who died. To suggest, as the exhibitions at Beit Hashoah do, that any of us could slip up and find ourselves carrying out mass killings, equates historical and social events with careless individual actions.

We wonder if Ms. Jenkins misunderstands a possible covert agenda on the museum's part due to its location. Perhaps museum administrators suspect that visiting Angelenos are too self-absorbed and impatient to internalize the sobering truths of the Holocaust without empathy-building aids to help them relate to the experiences of Hitler's victims. Sadly, in this modern age, people need help seeing that "your story" is "my story."
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On the other hand, it's possible that the museum recognizes the importance of reminding LA how truly dangerous it is for our residents to indulge in the palpable negativity, ethnic and class conflict, and simmering rage that blankets this overcrowded region like grime. Maybe the point of the museum's program is not to get people to absorb the Holocaust's history-- folks can visit the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, Washington DC orNew York City for that --so much as using a heinous moment for humankind to get people to look at, and combat, the evil within themselves. If the importance of tolerance and compassion are the primary messages of recent narratives about Los Angeles --like "The Shield," "Collateral" and "Crash"-- what's wrong with a local museum addressing it too?

Not a bad goal for residents of a city that's endured two riots in the last 40 years...