Invisible Victims: The 5 Million “Other” Holocaust Victims and their Forgotten Histories

The traumatic legacy of the Holocaust is an integral part of the modern Jewish identity. The course of Jewish culture and society have been forever altered by this profound loss of people and tradition. Today, Holocaust museums across the world memorialize and commemorate the Jewish experience during this dark period in history. However, Jews were not the only populations affected by or targeted during the Holocaust. People who identified as queer, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Communists, Poles, gypsies, persons with disabilities, blacks, and Soviet prisoners of war were all persecuted and targeted by the Third Reich. In our discussion in the previous class, it became apparent to me how deeply forgotten these victim groups are from the Holocaust memory. Not once did we explore how the Holocaust has affected other communities and people. When discussing Holocaust memory of survivors, one cannot overlook the intersectional and diverse identities among the survivors and victims; it is irresponsible to do so. Museums, the sites of and catalysts for public memory, have forgotten and neglected these victim groups, as well. Change needs to be made to present a more inclusive history, and that change can start with us.

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Hundreds of thousands of Romani (otherwise known as gypsies) were murdered in concentration camps during the Holocaust

The current museum interpretation of these other victim groups is severely lacking and inadequate. At the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the other victim groups are only allotted a small section in the main exhibition. While USHMM hosts a variety of temporary exhibitions and has online content that focuses on the other victim groups, these marginalized communities are largely absent from the permanent exhibition. This can be seen in a larger context within society; the other victims’ of the Holocaust experiences have been erased and, more hauntingly, excluded from public memory. It is important to observe and acknowledge the inequality in the presentation of Holocaust stories between various “other” victim groups and the Jewish victims. While Jewish stories are interpreted in hundreds, if not thousands, of Holocaust memorials and museums across the world – Where are the memorial spaces dedicated to the other victims? Where are their museums? Where are their stories recorded and displayed alongside Jewish stories, not just in addition to Jewish stories?

Museums need to take on an active role in engaging with the stories of diverse Holocaust victims and survivors. By incorporating and introducing diverse experiences and narratives, museums can reinterpret the Holocaust as a traumatic event for humanity – not just for the Jewish population. As museum professionals, we have a duty to serve our communities and present accurate information while also dissecting complex issues and histories. Let us start interpreting and discussing the Holocaust in a more holistic and inclusive manner. Let us expose the Holocaust for what it was – a malicious event that targeted and affected a multitude of marginalized groups and has had a lasting effect on the identities of these people.

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