Chairman of Holocaust Memorial Museum engages WU community

A week after Holocaust Remembrance Day, Fred Zeidman, chairman emeritus of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, discussed the importance of bringing Holocaust remembrance into the digital age as the number of Holocaust survivors began to decrease.

Zeidman, a business leader and Washington University alumnus, came to campus Wednesday night as part of an event titled “The Holocaust and American Public Memory,” sponsored by the Danforth Center on Religion and Politics. During his discussion, Zeidman also touched on his experiences with the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Zeidman received his undergraduate business degree from Washington University in 1968. He went on to become a Houston-based business leader and hold a high position in the National Holocaust Museum.

At one point in the discussion Zeidman recounted his experiences as chairman of the museum and expressed his belief in the museum’s importance in writing America’s history and remembering its past.

“We have to let the world know what can happen if we let this go,” Zeidman said. “We were the first to openly acknowledge and recognize the need to deal with this issue to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Zeidman also discussed his role in the digitization of the museum, which resulted in universal access to records across the museum’s collections, published materials and photo archives.

“The biggest challenge was facing this transition…this migration from the survivor generation to the post-survivor,” Zeidman said. “My job, my obligation, to survivors, is to make sure that nobody ever forgets, and we couldn’t do that unless we kept [the museum] alive through digitalization and all those things.”

After Zeidman and moderator Rachel Gross spoke for an hour, Gross opened the floor to questions from the audience. When it came time for the Q&A session, however, there was an evident lack of student attendance in the room, though Zeidman had had lunch with students at the Hillel house earlier. The crowd of nearly 100 audience members was filled mostly by faculty and community members.

The lack of student participation did not detract from a slew of questions directed toward Zeidman. One audience member sparked a murmur of approval from the crowd and a long answer from Zeidman when he asked why the Holocaust is remembered at the museum, but there is no mention of other genocides and atrocities such as those of Imperial Japan.

“It’s virtually impossible to answer that objectively…because I’m Jewish,” Zeidman said. “I would have been victimized by this…Maybe the answer is just it shouldn’t be.”

After the event concluded, freshman Reuben Siegman reflected on the relevance of holding such a panel on campus.

“It was very important to have the event on campus because the Holocaust is still a relevant topic,” Siegman said. “As Zeidman pointed out, there are many genocides happening around the world today. It is important that we learned about the past to ensure a tomorrow where there will be no more genocide.”

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Alex SiegmanComment