Since its dedication Apr. 22, 1993, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., has been a cultural magnet, attracting more than five million visitors from all over the world. People come to see the moving exhibits, which tell the story of the Holocaust that annihilated millions of jews as well as other victims of Nazi atrocities, including Poles, homosexuals, the physically handicapped, and political and religious dissidents.
The U.S. Congress authorized the museum in 1980 to be a "permanent living memorial to all victims who perished in the Holocaust." Constructed with private funds, the museum is built on land donated by the federal government. Inside, visitors can find not only exhibits but also two theaters, areas for "impromptu discussions," and an interactive computer learning center.
What most visitors don't realize, however, is that the building housing the museum is dedicated to research as well as commemoration and exhibits. On the fifth floor is located the United States Holocaust Museum Research Institute, which opened in December 1993. The institute has seven departments, including a library that is helping to fulfill its mandate to serve as an international center for research in Holocaust and genocide studies.
"We provide access to printed materials not only on the Holocaust, but also on the subject of genocide, wherever it has happened," stressed Mark Ziomek, director of the library. "We want to become the world's greatest resource on those subjects."
It may seem like an overly ambitious goal for a fledgling library barely two years old, but driven by a sense of mission, the library's dedicated staff is confident they can reach their objective.
It's a great honor to work here," Holly Vorhies, the library's cataloger, explained. "I feel privileged. Making information available on the Holocaust is a very important job, because, recently, there has been an onslaught of denial that the Holocaust ever existed."
The library had been without a permanent director for 18 months until Mark Ziomek took the helm in May 1995. A 1984 graduate of the University of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign library school, Ziomek spent a year as an intern at the Library of Congress before going to work full-time at LC as a cataloging policy specialist in what was then the Office of Subject Cataloging Policy and is now the Cataloging Policy and Support Office. By 1994, Ziomek had reached the point in his career where he wanted to move into a management position.
"This job really suits me because my undergraduate history thesis was on the British response to the jewish refugee crisis of the 1930s," Ziomek explained. "It's giving me the chance to broaden my experience in an area I am interested in:"
Publicizing the library's mission is the most challenging part of his job, said the library director. "I inherited a young library that has barely learned how to stand on its feet. Now it needs to be promoted as much as possible so more people can start using our collection."
Ziomek supervises a staff of seven full-time employees and two weekend reference assistants and oversees a budget of $450,000, of which $100,000 goes toward the acquisition of materials. The U.S. Congress appropriates the museum's annual budget of approximately $40 million.
"Fortunately, the museum has its own congressional liaison officer, so I don't have to go to Capitol Hill and make a pitch for money," Ziomek explained. "I have enough to do without being a lobbyist."
Only Ziomek, Vorhies, and one other staff member are professional librarians, but the library plans to advertise soon for two new positions, which will be filled with graduates from ALA-accredited programs. Museum employees are classified as federal employees; their salaries paid by U.S. taxpayers.
The library also has 10 volunteers who work an average of four hours a week, including two retired librarians who help with professional duties. "We rely on volunteers a lot; in fact, we couldn't function without them," Vorhies said.
Ziomek added, "Our staff is small and it has such a multitude of activities going on that the volunteers help keep the library functioning day-to-day while the permanent staff takes on more tasks with increasing responsibility. "
The library's collection includes 25,000 books and some 100 ongoing serial titles. Historic documents, photographs, films, videos, oral histories, and the Benjamin and Vladka Reed Register of jewish Holocaust Survivors are also housed on the fifth floor, but in other departments. The library acquires rare as well as popular titles, as long as they relate to the Holocaust and genocide studies.
Subjects include: propaganda;jewish life and history; the history of fascism; victims of racial and political prejudice; children of survivors and perpetrators; personal recollections of victims; the history of racial and political prejudice and anti-Semitism; Holocaust-related art, literature, and theology; revisionists and revionism; and genocide and the world's response.
The library's collection of narratives written by victims of the Holocaust are of special interest because many of them have never been published. As the library program statement explains, "The collection is important in view of the aging of this community of victims and their own wishes to tell their histories so that they could not be forgotten."
To document the theme of genocide and the world's response, the library is building collections related to such famous examples of mass murder as the Cambodian holocaust perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot and the atrocities committed by various ethnic groups in the former Yugoslavia. "When I'm talking to colleagues or scholars about our collection, I'm careful to mention that it's about genocide as well as Holocaust studies," Ziomek explained.
Since the library's mission is to acquire material relating to all victims of Nazi persecution, it has been making a special effort to strengthen its collection in the area of gay and lesbian studies. "The gay and lesbian Holocaust experience is important and we need to document it fully," Ziomek explained. "There are gaps in the collection that need to be filled in. Fortunately, I've found an excellent bibliography on gay and lesbian studies, and I'm now spending a lot of the end-of-the-year money to strengthen that part of the collection."
The collection is highly specialized, so Vorhies, who is fluent in German and can read French, now spends much of her time involved in original cataloging. Establishing the names of groups and organizations affected by the Holocaust is extremely time consuming, she points out, and involves a great deal of research.
Right now, I need to find the name of a prison in Czechoslovakia," Vorhies explained. "I'm trying to find someone in the museum who speaks Czech so I can telephone the prison. I often have to go to colleagues for language help. "
Vorhies his spent a good deal of her time proposing subject-heading changes to the Library of Congress. She sends the proposals to LC via the Internet by filling out a form electronically. "I let Mark [Ziomek] see my proposals first," Vorhies explained. "He worked in LC's Cataloging Policy and Support Office and knows a lot about cataloging and how LC operates. I'm lucky to have his cataloging experience available."
"Gas chambers," "Death marches," "National socialism and justice," and "National socialism and labor," are four of the subject-heading changes the library has proposed to LC. "We have proposed over 100 headings to LC, and they have rejected only a few," the cataloger revealed.
The library has a liberal access policy in place. Ifs open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., seven days a week. "Because of the nature of the holocaust, we want to be open to everyone," said Ziomek.
The library doesn't exactly know how many researchers have come to use its resources. "There have been a lot, but we've been too busy to keep statistics," said William Connelly, library technician.
Most of the researchers so far have been genealogists, who frequently consult the Yizkor (memorial) books, which preserve the memory of jewish family and cultural life destroyed during the Holocaust. "These books are often the only documentation remaining of those communities," Connelly explained. "They are invaluable for tracing a family's history."
Staff members who work at the reference desk find the experience can be moving. "I get sad sometimes," Vorhies said. "A patron will see a name on a death list in one of the books and start crying. It's the first time that they have seen a family member's name in writing. It hits home. I have to walk away from the desk for a while."
Looking to the future, the library plans to broaden its clientele and attract more scholars by producing a catalog and by providing information about its resources on the World Wide Web. It also plans to develop a preservation program to save the fragile materials that survived World War 11 and the Holocaust and to strengthen contacts with other libraries involved with Holocaust and genocide studies.
"We will always be looking for new ways to fulfill our mission," Ziomek said.
Oscar Goes to Holocaust Museum's One Survivor Remembers
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented an Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject of 1995 to producer Kary Antholis for One Survivor Remembers, a film about Gerda Weissmann Klein. One of only 140 survivors of a 1,000-mile forced march of 4,000 women from a concentration camp in western Germany to Czechoslovakia during World War II, Klein also accepted the award at the Mar. 25 ceremony in Hollywood and spoke eloquently about what she endured.
"We're thrilled and also very moved by the opportunity to serve as the midwife for getting her story to the American people," Michael Berenbaum, director of the Research Institute arm of the Holocaust Museum, told American Libraries following the Oscar broadcast. As co-producer, the Holocaust Museum is a co-recipient of the award, he said.
Produced for HBO, the film has also won an Emmy and a Cable Ace Award. The 39-minute documentary is based on Weissmann's book All But My Life, and was made to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust and the war.
One Survivor Remembers is available on videotape at $29.95 (10% discount to libraries and other educational institutions) plus $5.95 shipping. Send purchase orders to: Holocaust Museum Shop, 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place, S.W., Washington, DC 20024-2150; or fax to 202-488-0438.
RELATED ARTICLE: HOLOCAUST MUSEUM LIBRARY FACT SHEET
Director: Mark Ziomek
Address: 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place, S.W., Washington, DC 20024-2150
Phone Number: 202-479-9727
Fax Number: 202-479-9726
Home Page: http://www.ushmm.org
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., seven days a week
Staff: seven full-time and two part-time
Serial Titles: 100
American Libraries contributing editor RON CHEPESIUK is a professor and head of special collections at Winthrop University in Roch Hill, South Carolina. His latest book is Sixties Radicals, Then and Now: Candid Conversations With Those Who Moved an Fra (McFarland, 1995).…