The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles
Tolerance is a very difficult concept to practice and teach. Recently I visited the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles where every tour starts with an orientation. At the end of the guide's talk we are shown two doors, "Prejudiced" and "Not Prejudiced." The guide asked us to choose which door to walk through to enter the exhibit. Rightly, no one choose the "Not Prejudiced" door. If we had chosen that door it would have opened. The introduction ended with the words, "everyone is prejudiced."
The Simon Wiesenthal Center consists of two parts-- the Museum of Tolerance and the Library and Archives. The Center was once affiliated with the Los Angeles branch of Yeshiva University. The Yeshiva is no longer part of Yeshiva University and is now called Yeshiva of Los Angeles. The Yeshiva and Center are independent next-door neighbors in a very vibrant Jewish community. The Simon Wiesenthal Center started in 1977, the Library was established in 1978, and the Museum opened in 1993. The Library began with 50 books and a part-time librarian. This librarian, Adaire J. Klein, is now the director of the Library & Archives and she was my hostess for this visit. The Library collection has over 40,000 volumes, 500 periodicals, 300 videos, 200 audios and other non-print media, and several hundred boxes of archival materials. The archives include photographs of the Holocaust era, documents, and testimonies of the persecution of Jews and other groups. The Library collects materials dealing with anti-Semitism, prejudice, genocide, racism, as well as materials written to promote respect and tolerance. The Library is the support and arm of the Center. Most of the documents and artifacts on display in the Museum are from the Library.
The Wiesenthal Center is a powerful place. They are very concerned with security. Every car entering the parking lot is stopped, checked, and the license plate is recorded. Everyone entering the Museum walks through a metal detector. Packages are inspected. I had to sign in and out for my visit to the Library. The elevator does not even stop on the Library's floor without the guard releasing it. The Museum is high tech, which means they use computers, realia, and video presentations to convey the message. This Museum is visited by school children from all over the Los Angeles area. When I was there, a group of teenagers from an alternative high school, who were on parole, were visiting. These were "street-smart" students who were totally awed by the messages of the Museum. I could see the look of disbelief in their eyes as they were shown a video of genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda. They were breathless when they saw the video of the Holocaust, which ends with hope and joy for Eretz Yisrael. I could see that they were learning of the pain of intolerance and how far hate could go.
For me the most powerful part of the exhibit had a book called, Der Giftpiltz : Ein Stürmerbuch fur Jung und Alt. Erzählungen. (The Poisonous Mushroom). This is an anti-Semitic children's picture book written by Ernst Hiemer in 1938. For more information on this book including an English translation and reproductions of the illustrations see the URL: www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/thumb.htm. I wrote a paper on anti-Semitic German children's literature and this was one of the books I read (1). The pictures and texts make one sick. The characters in the pictures have exaggerated features to make them repulsive. The degradation and making fun of Jewish customs is pure venomous hatred. The font for the text is Old German (Gottish) handwriting. The book is shown closed. No one can read the text or see the pictures, but I remember this book very well. I found a web sight that has every page reproduced and translated.
The Library & Archives has a huge reach beyond its walls. Its librarians respond to over 300 e-mailed quires a week. Many of the requests are serious reference questions that are referred to knowledgeable librarians and scholars. Two hundred more questions per week are asked by phone and in-person. The Library's mission is education. Under its auspices law enforcement agents and agents in training are sent for three days of training in dealing with diversity and issues of tolerance. This is paid for by the State of California. The Library has an endowed award, Once Upon A World Children's Book Award, presented yearly for a children's book that best exemplifies tolerance. (This is the sixth year of this award.) The Library has a monthly in-house training session for staff of the Center and members of the public. I attended this session, which dealt with recognizing counterfeit Holocaust artifacts. Of the 15 objects I examined I identified one incorrectly. One object was a fake Kapo jacket. (This was easy to tell is was fake from over 20 feet away. It had a clean and pressed flat Mogen David on the front and faked stiffening on the shoulders.)
These out reach programs are the major reason the Institute of Museums and Library Services (An independent agency of the federal government) awarded the Library & Archives one of four awards in 2000. This was first time for these awards. The Institute recognizes the importance of libraries as centers of learning, discover, and leadership. Libraries with their collaborative effect with schools, organizations, and businesses address the needs of a diverse community.
The Library & Archives publishes materials for the teaching of the Holocaust, civil rights, and tolerance. More information about the Simon Wiesenthal Center can be found on their web page: http://www.wiesenthal.com/index.cfm or the Library's web page: http://www.wiesenthal.com/library.
One series of publications is called, Tools for Tolerance for Professionals. These publications are an institution-wide multifaceted program that engages participants in discussions of tolerance, diversity, personal values and responsibility as they apply to the workplace and beyond. Law enforcement personnel, educators, city government employees, corporate executives, information specialists, and many others participate in these specialized professional development programs designed to address their unique concerns and challenges.
Tools for Tolerance to Enhance Library Services has customized the Tools for Tolerance for library Professionals to meet the needs of Library Personnel. The Library and Archives has designed this program and succeeded in obtaining an LSTA (Library Services and Technology Act) grant. Grants from several state agencies fund library and institution-wide programs.
The Library staff has 3 interns from Austria as part of the Gendenkdienst program. These are young men who are fulfilling their military obligations through their service in a Holocaust related museum for a 14-month program of learning and service. They help in the Library and Museum. Their German knowledge is used in translating and interpreting documents. They lead tours and give a personal perspective to events. The Austrian government pays them the same pay as a soldier, which is less than the cost of living in Los Angeles. I met with them and they are friendly and knowledgeable. They are using this opportunity to learn about Jews, the Holocaust, and the United States. They hope that the experience will help them later in their careers.
I like to ask librarians about the resources they have and what they would want to do to improve their library. The Library & Archives is on the third floor of an office building across the street from the Museum. Three years ago they were in the same building, but more space was needed. The public room of the library contains stacks and a few places to sit. There is also a computer lab for instructional purposes and a computer room for accessing the catalog, the digital resources and the Internet. Classrooms are on the other side of a hallway. The place is too small for their collection. Part of the stacks and most of the boxes of archival documents and objects are in another location. The reading room has boxes on the floor for lack of storage space. The Library could use more shelves along the windows.
You don't have to wait to go to Los Angeles to benefit from their collections. If you are a rabbi, librarian, teacher, student, scholar or just interested, visit them via their web site or publications. The address for Center's office and the Library is: 1399 S. Roxbury Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90035; tel. (310)722-7605. The Museum's address is 9786 W. Pico Blvd. Admission to the Museum is $9.00 for adults; $5.50 for students and youths. Some of the exhibits may be too intense for children under 13. The Museum closes early on Fridays and is closed on Shabbat and holidays.
Mr. Stuhlman will be appearing on the cable TV program, Taped with Rabbi Doug. This is Rabbi Doug Zeldin's weekly talk show on Jewish issues. In Chicago it will be broadcast on channel 19, Monday October 15,2001 at 8:30 and Tuesday Oct. 16 at 3 PM. In other Chicago suburbs the date will be about 6 weeks later. For more information contact Mr. Stuhlman.
Daniel D. Stuhlman is president of Stuhlman Management Consultants, Chicago, IL, a firm helping organizations turn data and information into knowledge.
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©2001, 2003 by Daniel D. Stuhlman. All rights reserved.
Last revised August 11, 2003
1. This paper, "Two German Children's Books of the 1930's" was written in 1976. I hope to revise it in the next few months and submit it for publication.