Holocaust memory in the United States has always been criticized for being used for political purposes. When one looks at photographs of the United States’ involvement in the Holocaust, it is clear from the use of language that a positive spin has been used to make the U.S. look good. The opposite is true for photographs of other countries’ involvement. The United States is determined to make themselves look like heroes for perpetuating the American Dream for everyone, especially the refugees. This is a purely political move, and does not represent the actual situation. [Thesis] The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s photo archive attempt to portray ‘an honest look at Jewish immigration during the Holocaust’ fails to provide a true account of Jewish immigration during and after the Holocaust in order to strengthen American ideologies.
II. What – Demonstration
The archive attempts to provide a plain layout in order for it to have an unbiased appearance. It covers several different areas of the Holocaust, from pre-Nazi times straight through refugees leaving Germany for several other countries, including many persecution photographs. The archive intends to cover every area of the horror equally and in a totally unbiased manner.
To accomplish this, the archive does not group pictures together into specified categories; instead it opts for a search-only method to prevent the tendency to highlight certain aspects of the Holocaust to its audience. The archive provides a list of “broad subject areas” in order to help the audience get a glimpse into the contents of the archive (including the subject areas mentioned above and several others). I believe that its aims are to provide the audience with an unguided opportunity to analyze the archives individually.
When looking at pictures that have been categorized under “immigration,” it is clear that the archive is trying highlight the difficulty the Jews faced in trying to escape the Holocaust, to escape Europe in general. However, it leans towards the idea that the United States were the only ones who welcomed the Jews. This is evident in the overwhelming amount of pictures where Jews have landed in America. They also provide the audience with pictures of documentations, such as passports, certificates, immigration cards all issued by the United States. This provides a biased idea that the United States were the only ones who truly welcomed the Jews. Countless photos provide captions such as “Passport issued… to their immigration to the United States.” (Photograph #67722) They also provide pictures highlighting Europe’s hostility and ignorance to the Jews during the Holocaust. They provide pictures where Jews await treatment “after the battle with the British boarding party” (Photograph #88172).
Even though they provide pictures of Jewish Immigration to Palestine, they only emphasize on those that face difficulty. The archive leaves out the countless of Jews that have fled to Palestine without difficulty. A good example is the picture of Jews that were to “serve as guides and organizers of illegal immigration activities” (Photograph #04919). Every time there is a picture of Jewish immigrants in Palestine, they have to always find ways to put the word “illegal” there, to emphasize that the Jews were not welcome in Palestine. A good example is “the battered illegal immigrant ship” (Photograph #95613). This is also greatly signified by the choice of pictures that is on this archive, the Jews that arrive in Palestine always look more rugged, and unhappy, while those landing in the America are happier, as though they have been Americanized already.
III. How – Complication
The truth is that the United States could have done a lot more to save the Jews. First it entered the war late, not to liberate the Jews, but because of the Pearl Harbor attack. If it had entered the war earlier, it could have saved more Jews, and impeded the extermination of the Jews.
Secondly, anti-Semitism was widespread in the State Department at the time which prompted them to “adhere to strict immigration restrictions and quotas put in place” (Faber, 3) They tried numerous ways to prevent Jewish immigrants from landing in America, none more affective by “demand[ing] documentation of good character from the very German government that was trying to exterminate the Jewish population.” (Faber, 4) The State Department was rife with anti-Semitism who interpreted immigration laws to keep refugees out, suppressed information about the Final Solution and sabotaged rescue efforts.
This proves contrary to the story that the archive was telling regarding Jewish immigration. It provides the audience with a biased view on American responses to the Holocaust. It only shed lights to the positive things that they did, and leaves out the rest.
IV. Why – Implication
The archive not only tries to portray the sufferings in the Holocaust, but also wants to strengthen through “valuable lessons that echoed American values” (Faber, 7). Holocaust memory in the United States has always had the tendency to be used for the “reproduction of the American national ethos” (Fujimaki, iv). Fujimaki highlights that the problem with Holocaust memory in the United States is that it is easily manipulated. And here in the archive it is clear that they are trying to portray that the Americans did all they could to help the Jews, and that they are very welcoming. They also try to highlight the American ideology that anyone can have the so-called “American dream.”
In the United States, Americans have taken the memory and have “made it their own, manipulating and shaping it to fit their needs.” (Faber, 34) Just like in the Archive, not only are they trying to depict the problems of Jewish immigration, they are also allowing “American ideals to be injected into the representations” (Faber, 34). They are trying to show American tolerance, and its “empathetic abilities, as well as exemplify America’s dedication to human rights.” (Faber, 35)
This has great significance because it contributes to American national identity that they have to help those people in need just like they have done in the past. It is a mere “justification of Americans political order and moral values – such as responsibility, tolerance, diversity, human rights” (Fujimaki, 6). But this is in a way a betrayal to Holocaust memory, because it is being used for an ulterior motive instead of trying to honestly portray it. They are in a way using the sufferings of the Jewish people to strengthen American ideologies. Because these ideals were never part of the event we call Holocaust, because of that the injection or usage of such ideals is in a way a betrayal to their memory.
They also do this to show that America is all about helping people; it is almost to say that we are helping to prevent genocide now because we have already done it in the past. The problem with Holocaust memory in the United States is that because we are looking and remembering it so much, that there is a tendency to not actually do anything to prevent other genocides.
The Holocaust photo archive is a good resource for people who would like to learn more about what happened during the Holocaust, especially with the persecution photographs. However, the captions and organization in the archive are definitely political in nature, aimed at making America look good because of its role in hosting refugees. This does not represent the true story of what happened during this time, so any viewers should be aware of the political implications in the text of the archive.