The Dalai Lama once said, “Where ignorance is our master, there is no possibility of real peace.”
Without the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, there would be one less opportunity for people to learn about the Holocaust, hear stories from those who survived it and one less outlet to educate younger generations, inspire them and prevent a repeat of history.
“The history of man is the history of crimes and history can repeat, so information is a defense. Through this we can build a defense against repetition,” said the late Simon Wiesenthal, an Austrian-Jewish man who spent four years in five concentration camps and lost 89 relatives — between he and his wife’s families — to the Holocaust. The plaza for which the Museum of Tolerance rests, bears Wiesenthal’s name in tribute to a man who for more than 50 years worked on leads to bring Nazi war criminals to justice. Wiesenthal, who died at age 96 in 2005, helped bring more than 1,100 criminals to trial, including Karl Silberbauer, whose confession brought validity to claims made by Anne Frank.
On Oct. 10, seven University of San Diego students, USD United Front Multicultural Center graduate assistant Laura Sabin, two USD Public Safety officers and Carlton Floyd, a USD English associate professor and associate provost and co-director of the Center for Inclusion and Diversity, toured the museum as part of USD’s Hate Crimes Awareness Week. The field trip gave participants the chance to get an intense perspective and to reflect on what they saw, heard and felt.
“This was super heavy stuff,” said Danielle Chung, a junior Ethnic Studies major. “I went to Washington D.C. this summer for the first time to attend NCORE (National Conference on Race and Ethnicity) with USD. I went to the Holocaust Museum while I was there. This visit (Sunday) added more layers to all the genocide horrors of history that I’ve already heard about — Rwanda, North Korea, Cambodia, the Holocaust — and widened my knowledge base.”
Cathy Weiss, a Holocaust survivor, spoke during the USD group’s visit. Sabin said listening to Weiss was the most impactful part for her. “She gave so many details of the experience but you could tell she has almost emotionally disconnected with everything in order to cope with all of the events that happened,” Sabin said. “And to hear really the luck, or maybe, fate of events that occurred for her to survive was incredible. I kept thinking how strong this woman was and thought how much willpower she had to survive.”
Though the Holocaust exhibit dominates the museum, there are other documented instances of tolerance, human rights and equality struggles. There is an interactive part where visitors learn about current hate crime activity, from historical pieces and recent headlines to specific websites that promote individuals and groups and blatantly display their beliefs. There’s an examination of more than 400 years of history, from 1565’s first Spanish settlement at St. Augustine to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, through diversity, intolerance and rights.
The 1946 case, Mendez v. Westminster (Calif.) School District, has a space within the museum, too. The court case focused on separate and unequal schools in Orange County, Calif., and the belief that Mexican and Mexican-American students should attend separate “Mexican schools.” The decision was ruled unconstitutional. In June 1947, then California Governor Earl Warren signed a bill that outlawed segregation in all California public schools. Warren also presided over the landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education, as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court years later.
In all, the trip to the museum heightened awareness among the USD contingent and hope that others who visit also gain a better understanding.
“I am more motivated and driven to be a part of change. For me, I act as a sponge and I want to take advantage of as many opportunities that come my way,” Chung said.
Sabin, who helped coordinate USD’s Hate Crimes Awareness Week’s activities, said the visit intensified her desire to fight hate and discrimination in today’s society.
“I’ve been thinking about how scary it is when the law changes to discriminate. When the Nuremberg Laws passed, where there was blatant discrimination against Jews, I can’t help but relate this to (California’s) Proposition 8 and the Arizona Immigration Law SB 1070. These are scary to have in place because it can be the start of a much larger hatred. The point is, we need to stop and fight discrimination acts now, early on and I am glad people here are standing up and fighting both of those laws.”
— Ryan T. Blystone