Thinking more about our discussion on Tuesday, and having read this New York Times article and the reactions to it, I want to explore the topic of “ownership” of the Holocaust a little more. I am increasingly frustrated with the point of view that any one group should “own” history. It is critical that we respect those who lived through traumatic events, and those who are still affected by them today. These survivors and descendants deserve the chance to tell their story and have their voices heard. However, they do not “own” history.
The centrality of Jews in the story of Auschwitz and the Holocaust must remain. However, efforts to overhaul the exhibitions at Auschwitz in order to serve a more educational purpose are a natural evolution. Critical sites like these should not become historical footnotes of interest to small, directly affected groups. Rather, they should share their lessons with the world.
Shared authority is one of our guiding concepts as public historians. While we usually look at it from the perspective of museum professionals needing to give up some of their control, we shouldn’t forget that shared authority works both ways. This concept also means that the “owners” of history also need to be less protective of their story, and allow it to be told in a way that will be instructive to a broader audience.