A Holocaust Museum for Ultra-Orthodox Jews

Sara Seidman, wife of Dr. Hillel Seidman, seen here talking to school children about a cloth (displayed) upon which her husband wrote a plea for rescue and which was smuggled out of the Vittel internment camp. Dr. Seidman was an archivist, researcher, and author. He kept a diary (also in this exhibition) chronicling the final days of the Warsaw Ghetto. (Photo via the Amud Aish Facebook page)

When the Amud Aish Memorial Museum and its educational division, The Kleinman Holocaust Education Center, opens later this year, it will become the first Holocaust museum in Brooklyn. Unlike other museums of its kind, however, this one is started by and aimed at the community in which it will be located – the ultra-Orthodox Jews of Borough Park, home to the highest concentration of Holocaust survivors in the U.S.

In a piece for Tablet, writer Noa Gutow-Ellis visits Amud Aish in its temporary Mill Basin location and discovers a whole new narrative to the Holocaust – one about life and resistance.

For ultra-Orthodox Jews, the Holocaust “is but one part of a much larger history of persecution including the destruction of the temples in Jerusalem, the Spanish Inquisition, the Russian pogroms.” This history is reflected in what differentiates Amud Aish from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. A Wall Street Journal article on Amud Aish describes why Orthodox Jews don’t visit the D.C. museum. Gutow-Ellis summarizes the reason:

It’s not that these Orthodox Jews won’t go to the museum because they refuse to interact with members outside of their community. Instead, it has to do with the ways that the museum in D.C. is out of sync with their ideology and their interpretation of Jewish law. For them, in other words, the D.C. museum is not kosher, and therefore not an appropriate place for them to visit.

When the writer attends a tour at Amud Aish, she finds “it was the opposite of the Holocaust learning I had been so immersed in for many years.” Here, the museum is “about life,” as Director of Education Julie Golding stated. Golding mentioned that when people ask when they are “going to see the dead bodies,” she “proudly answers that they won’t be seeing any of that there.”

(…) The Amud Aish museum focuses on religious and spiritual resistance, while the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum focuses on military resistance by Jews against Nazi soldiers. For instance, in the D.C. museum, there are multiple displays of guns used in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. But when a young boy asked Golding before his Amud Aish tour, “Will we see guns?” she replied, “No, you won’t see guns or anything scary because this is a museum about life, not death.” Amud Aish is a Jewish museum focused on the lives of Jews during the Holocaust—not the weapons used to kill them.

Rabbi Sholom Freidmann, the museum’s director, explains that traditional Orthodox communities have a view of Jewish history distinct from the mainstream secular Jewish perspective. For more on this and how else Amud Aish differs from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, read Gutow-Ellis’ full article at Tablet.

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