Is the museum about the genocide of Europe’s Jews a way for the Swedish government to buy a good conscience?
Last summer the government appointed an inquiry to create a museum about the Holocaust in Sweden. The museum would “carry on the memory of the Holocaust”. But is it not already happening in many ways? Are there no museums about the genocide of Jews in Europe? Or does it fill a knowledge gap?
The establishment of the museum is probably less about the memory of the past. There are several very large museums in Europe, such as the Polish “Polin”, which already handles that part. This is more about Swedish context.
Anti-Semitism in Malmö has attracted international attention. And despite fine acts of solidarity from politicians, quite little has actually happened in substance. People of Jewish descent still cannot move freely in the streets without hearing anti-Semitic cursing. Many Jews simply choose to withdraw from it and no one can with good conscience claim that the development has turned for the better.
Is the museum about the genocide of Europe’s Jews a way for the Swedish government to buy a good conscience? We can not solve any problems here and now, the politicians think resignedly. It’s overpowering us. But we can at least establish a museum about the Holocaust.
The confusion about the museum’s purpose is rather intensified when one reads the statements of the many consultative bodies . Municipalities, regions, anti-discrimination bureaus and civil society organizations have views on the museum’s possible instrumental value. The content plays a supporting role.
A museum in Sweden about the Holocaust, according to the consultative bodies, should not only teach people about Europe’s past – it should aim to make our time a little better and more tolerant. That’s a commendable thought, of course. Learn from history so as not to repeat it, as it is called. But can such hopes really be placed on an individual museum?
The museum has also become a political issue. “There are strong reasons why the Social Democrats in Malmö do not deserve to have a Holocaust museum in our city,” wrote the moderate John Roslund in a debate article (AB 8/10). According to Roslund, the Social Democrats had not done away with anti-Semitism within their own ranks or solved the problem of the widely known and open racism against Jews in Malmö.
Now the location of the museum has also become a discussion in itself. By locating the museum in Malmö in particular, it can somehow signal that society wants to put an end to anti-Semitism. DN’s editorial argued that the placement in Malmo “would be to give clear support to the city’s Jewish minority.” Even Expressen’s editorial was contained on the same line: “The government should place the planned Holocaust museum in Malmö as a mark against the unacceptable anti-Semitism” (27 / 1).
Help living Swedish Jews with a museum of their dead ancestors. Is it a support for those who encounter anti-Semitism in everyday life?
But this is not just a confused declaration of solidarity – there is also concrete benefit, in addition to “support”, said DN’s leadership. The museum would namely function as some kind of “vaccine” against hatred: “Actually, all Malmö’s school children should be allowed to visit the Holocaust Museum every year, as a vaccine against the prejudices that come not least from the Middle East”.
Due to the fact that several Swedish governments have failed to prevent rampant anti-Semitism in Malmö in particular, all students must now be reminded annually of the Holocaust. As if the exposure to a genocide of, mainly Eastern European Jews, would “vaccinate” someone against political conflicts in the Middle East.
It is not the case that native Swedish schoolchildren of any generation have become rabid anti-Semites. The reason why Malmö’s Jewish minority has been increasingly forced to keep a low profile over the past two decades is the city’s demographic change. The greater the proportion of Malmöites who have direct ties to countries in the Middle East, where anti-Semitism is closely intertwined with hatred of Israel and is often state-sponsored, the more often anti-Semitic acts will be committed.
More than half a century of propaganda and conflicts with Israel are doing their part. What suggests that people who dislike Israel, and consider symbols of Jewish life as symbols of Israel, would change because they learn about how Jews were murdered by Nazis in Europe?
Anti-Semitism in the Middle East is based on hatred of Israel. Not on ignorance of World War II. There is also a very common perception in the Middle East that Jews in general and the Israeli government in particular use the Holocaust as a political tool to cover up Israeli crimes. A museum, which is already marinated in various political and weather-driven motives, is unlikely to escape that suspicion. And this especially from those who are the implicit target group for the museum.
The discussions about the Holocaust Museum and its location are what one might call a time-typical proxy discussion. The real problem, which is almost insoluble, is too difficult, infected and difficult to deal with. So you take to the best you have in your arsenal: Powerful blows in the air.
Like a permanent kippah walk, the museum can therefore serve for some as a kind of reminder that society “takes a stand”. But the problem of Swedish Jews is not that the memory of their dead relatives is fading – it is that the daily life for some has become stressful to live.
At regular intervals, we get these “We shall overcome” moments when politicians and public figures with incantations want to subdue reality. Museums must operate constructively and in the service of the values. But there is very little here that suggests that it would solve any problem.
People who migrate carry with them their history, culture, trauma and hopes for life. For better or worse. With immigration from the Middle East, we got the conflicts of the Middle East. These are now taking place in Malmö. That will not change with a museum.
Translation of chronicle by Adam Cwejman in Göteborgsposten