Tuesday, February 6

If these walls could talk

The Museum of Tolerance by far is the most compelling of all Museums I’ve ever visited. Walking in the building’s lobby gives you a feeling that something important and of high significance is contained in that haphazard looking building. Everything and everyone from the security guard at the Parking Entrance, ticket booth personnel, and the many Museum narrators radiate knowledge and professionalism that only the true enthusiast and advocates of social tolerance and intolerance can emit. The interior of the building was equally impressive. It’s quiet and dimmed in a way that you almost feel guilty your shoes made noise as you walked. Consequently I found myself walking gingerly as I followed the Narrator down the spiral catwalk down to the bottom floor for the requisite orientation. The orientation was held in this rustic room beneath the catwalk offering only a single semi-circular seating like that of the ancient Mayans in their place of worship or something. The lady narrator of African descent spoke with passion and vigor, not your typical monotonous museum narrator. She was well dressed and very informative. She spoke of Simon Wiesenthal, an Austrian-Jewish architectural engineer who became a Nazi hunter after surviving the Holocaust. Following four and a half years in the concentration camps of Janowska, Plaszow, and Mauthausen during World War II, Wiesenthal dedicated most of his life to tracking down, hunting and gathering information on fugitive Nazis so that they could be brought to justice for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, located in Los Angeles, in the United States, is named in honor of him.

The first of five exhibits was the Tolerance Center that focuses on the major issues of intolerance that are a part of our daily lives. This time a nice fellow of English descent welcomed us, along with his charming accent. Despite the accent he seemed very serious about his work and how he felt about the impact of the Museum in society. He did an excellent job narrating the moving photographs on the walls depicting various hate crimes throughout America. He explicitly explained what we should expect in the coming exhibits as we wait for our groups turn. Gazing around while we waited, i thought to myself "If these walls could talk".

Below are sub-categories in this important and relevant Tolerance Center.

In Our Time

Offers a gripping video portal on Bosnia, Rwanda and contemporary hate groups that offer a mind blowing inside look at human rights violations going on throughout the world, even today as you read this. Ethnic cleansing or what is commonly known as genocide is the main focus of this first exhibit. An inexplicable phenomenon no person in the right mind would ever be capable of understanding. The videos are very disturbing, the death tolls alarming, and the children’s faces in the photographs, somber as death.

Ain't You Gotta Right?

A dramatic 16-screen video wall detailing the struggle for civil rights in America through archival footage and interviews from that period in time. I felt somewhat guilty that I lack so much knowledge of my countries civil right struggles. Perhaps I felt it was insignificant, being that I am of Filipino roots not American. Nevetheless, America is my adopted country and embracing its past struggles and history, significant or otherwise is not only important, it is my responsibility.

The Point of View Diner

A recreation of a 1950's diner, red booths and all, that "serves" a menu of controversial topics on video jukeboxes. It uses the latest cutting edge technology to relay the overall message of personal responsibility. Following scenarios focusing on drunk driving and hate speech, this interactive exhibit allows visitors to input their opinions on what they have seen and question relevant characters. The results are then instantly tabulated.

The Millenium Machine

This high-tech "time machine," uses interactivity to educate visitors with a series of human rights abuses throughout the world, such as the exploitation of women and children, the threat of terrorism, and the plight of refugees and political prisoners. The Millenium Machine then engages visitors into finding solutions, showing that while humans have the potential to bring about these problems, they also have the potential to put a stop to them. This one probably was my favorite, next to the amazingly detail oriented Holocaust exhibit not to mention lengthy. Although the internet is a great and easy medium to educate ones self to these world issues we are guilty of not utilizing such mediums. Come to think of it, without movies we probably wouldn’t have any clue such atrocities exist in this modern world we live in. Thanks to the Museum of Tolerance it is opening doors and opportunities for us here in Los Angeles and perhaps the entire world to do something about it. The museum is not only a medium exposing these otrocities but also challenges ordinary people such as us to participate. I think it is fair to say that we live in a better place here in America, the world’s most powerful country. That said, I think we have a responsibility not only as ordinary people but a country as a whole to get involved.

The Holocaust exhibit

This time we were greeted by a lady of Indian Descent. She was obviously British educated basing on her accent, making her perhaps the quintessential narrator for such a Museum. She is intellectual as she is pretty and polite. In the Holocaust Exhibit, visitors become witnesses to the events of World War II. A timed tour moves people from exhibit to exhibit to relive a decade of events in Germany from pre-World War II, through the rise and fall of the Third Reich, and liberation. Each visitor receives a different photo passport card with the story of a child whose life was changed by the events of the Holocaust. Throughout the tour, the passport is updated and at the end, the ultimate fate of the child is revealed.

The Holocaust was the most poignant of all the exhibits. Although time was of the essence I felt behooved to complete the rather lengthy exhibit because I wanted to know the ultimate fate of the child on my photo passport. As mentioned above the tour is timed, partly due to the length of the exhibit and in the interest of properly staggering the visitors. Initially I felt this was not a good thing, considering the fact that this is the gist of the museum. I thought missing the human touch or in this case the human interaction would somehow demote the experience. However, shortly after the exhibit started I was so enthralled I had forgotten all about human interaction. The videos and the photos although in hazy black & white told very telling and chilling stories. The props used for the re-creation of a 1930's pre-war Berlin, including a cafe where people are discussing their concerns over the impending Nazi takeover of Germany, Auschwitz one of the many Concentration camps in Poland, and Wannsee Conference where a reenactment of the meeting of Nazi leaders as they decide on "The Final Solution of the Jewish Question" - the destruction of European Jewry, were well constructed in impressive fine detail.

Towards the end of the expansive Holocaust exhibit was this life-life re-creation of a wrought iron Gate that stood indignantly in front of Concentration Camps, whereupon, Millions of Jews walked through to their death. Mass murder is unthinkable, I could only try to imagine how those Jews who were condemned to die there were feeling. What morbid thoughts they must have had. Most telling of all Holocaust exhibits however isn’t the Gate, not the grotesque photos, nor the videos, not even the child in the Photo Passport, but the stone wall accounting the Jewish Death toll towards the end of the exhibit. The wall listed by country the staggering numbers of Jews killed during the Holocaust, a grand total of nearly 6 million souls.

Due to time restraints I am sad to share that I was not able to experience all of the exhibits in the building. The Holocaust exhibit was the last one. Nevertheless, this was quite an experience. An experience I will not soon forget. Perhaps one I will never forget. I have always noticed the “Museum of Tolerance” sign on the 10 Freeway but regrettably, I never looked it up. I even chuckled at what I thought was a funny sounding name for a Museum without giving it the benefit that maybe it means something more substantial than just a Funny Name. Now that I have visited it, experienced it first hand, do I still think it’s a funny name? Absolutely not!!! I think it’s a Wonderful, meaningful and fitting name for such an important Museum. Tolerance; A fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one's own; freedom from bigotry. Not many social subjects are more substantial than that…


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