2017-03-01 / Voice at the Shore

National WWII Museum elicits feedback from Stockton Holocaust Studies faculty

Voice shore editor

Stockton faculty and staff who recently visited the National World War II Museum in New Orleans included (from left) Dr. Judith Vogel, Gail Rosenthal, Douglas Cervi, Dr. Michael Hayse, Sarah Albertson, and Mary Maudsley, Esq. Stockton faculty and staff who recently visited the National World War II Museum in New Orleans included (from left) Dr. Judith Vogel, Gail Rosenthal, Douglas Cervi, Dr. Michael Hayse, Sarah Albertson, and Mary Maudsley, Esq. Six faculty members from Stockton University’s Holocaust and Genocide Studies Department recently visited the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. The Stockton contingent was part of a group of 80 representatives from the Association of Holocaust Organizations (AHO), which was invited to offer feedback on the museum’s presentation of the Holocaust and to become familiar with the museum’s resources and offerings.

“The focus of the meeting was to introduce Holocaust scholars, historians and educators to the World War II Museum,” said Gail Rosenthal, director of Stockton’s Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center, who attended the AHO’s Winter Seminar January 8-10 at the National World War II Museum along with Stockton faculty members Michael Hayse, Douglas Cervi, Sarah Albertson, and Judith Vogel. The trip was generously underwritten by Holocaust Resource Center donors, noted Rosenthal.

“The National WWII Museum is charged with telling the entire story of the American experience during World War II,” according to the official museum guide. “With the recognition that the Greatest Generation is passing from the scene, the Museum has intensified its efforts to build a collection of artifacts, archives, and video oral histories that will preserve those stories for future generations.”

The AHO was invited to hold its Winter Seminar there so that AHO members could offer feedback on the museum’s coverage and portrayal of the Holocaust, said Douglas Cervi, adjunct professor of General Studies at Stockton. The museum, which has quadrupled in size since its opening in 2000 and continues to expand and evolve, tells the story of World War II primarily from the point of view of Americans who fought in the war. Exhibits include first person testimony from veterans who fought in the war.

Among the testimony amassed by the museum was that of American soldiers who liberated Nazi concentration camps.

“We are going to have access to their liberation tapes,” said Cervi, noting that “first person testimony is better than anything in movies or books.”

According to Cervi, the museum is still working on its exhibit on the liberation of the camps. “The veterans are very concerned, just like Holocaust survivors, that no one ever forgets,” said Cervi.

Sgt. Jim Weller, a 95-yearold veteran who was among the liberators of the Buchenwald concentration camp, spoke to AHO members during their seminar about his experience. Cervi also met with Weller following his presentation. “He told me [seeing Buchenwald] was the most difficult thing he experienced during the war. He said he couldn’t believe what he saw, that he’d never get over the smell…the walking skeletons.”

Weller actually cried while recalling his experience, said Cervi, telling him: “‘Words don’t even describe how bad it was…it’s ridiculous that people say this didn’t happen.’”

Holocaust educators’ one concern about the museum was ensuring that visitors—especially younger people who did not grow up hearing about World War II—get a balanced view of what went on during the war, said Stockton’s Michael Hayse, an associate professor of History and Holocaust Studies. Because the museum presents the war primarily from the point of view of American soldiers who fought in it, there is a heavy emphasis on the Pacific warfront, which is where most American soldiers fought, he explained.

However, said Hayse, “most of the war was fought and most of the dying was done [in Europe] on the Eastern front.”

Historians who worked on the museum were well aware of this, stressed Hayse, and of the balance issue that might arise from presenting the war from the American soldiers’ point of view—which is one reason why the AHO had been invited to view the museum and offer feedback.

Why is the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, rather than Washington, D.C.? As Stockton faculty attending the AHO seminar learned, the museum— originally called the D-day Museum--was conceived by two Louisiana college professors seeking to showcase the crucial role of New Orleansbased Higgins Industries in producing the amphibious boats and vehicles that helped the Allies achieve victory on DDay in Normandy.

The concept and scope of the museum grew as it gained support from the likes of Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and ultimately the federal government. In 2003, the museum changed its name when Congress designated it as America’s official National World War II Museum. It has since quadrupled its original size and continues to grow and evolve. 

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