The visitors at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum "got a lesson we didn't want them to have,'' said Myrna Shinbaum, a spokesperson for the Anti-Defamation League. "They learned a lesson in what hatred and violence can lead to," she told me as we discussed the horrible anti-Semitic events of the past days - the shooting at the museum and the latest rantings about Jews from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, President Obama's former pastor.
James Wenneker Von Brunn, anti-Semite, Holocaust denier and white supremacist, shot his way into the museum, police said, killing the security guard who opened the door for him. Two other security guards returned fire, shooting Von Brunn in the face with such force that he fell outside the door, thank God, limiting his damage. The museum reopened on Friday.
For everything our national museum for genocide prevention tries to teach - in its exhibits and research documenting the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust and contemporary genocide - Von Brunn, 88, demonstrated the irrationality of evil. He drove his 2002 red Hyundai to the museum on the National Mall, double parked and took his .22 caliber rifle from the car. For no other reason than his almost lifelong obsession of hating Jews, he went to the U.S. Holocaust Museum to shoot people.
In a notebook police officers found in the auto were Von Brunn's handwritten grossly mistaken claims. "The Holocaust is a lie. Obama was created by the Jews. Obama does what his Jew owners tell him to do. Jews captured America's money. Jews control the mass media."
If you think something like that could not happen - more than 60 years ago in Europe or this week in Washington D.C. - well it can and it did.
If you did not understand before, I hope you do now.
The past few days have brought us a confluence of events regarding the Jewish community, anti-Semites and the Holocaust. The brighter spots have been the strong statements about Holocaust denial that President Obama made in speeches in Cairo, Egypt and at the Buchenwald Nazi Concentration Camp in Germany, along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel's acknowledgement of the Shoah, or Holocaust.
As eloquent as Obama's words were, his calls for truth telling about the Holocaust did not stop Von Brunn. The ADL described him as a "peripheral but well-respected figure among American white supremacists."
In the case of Wright, his latest remarks about Jews once again put him in the news. In an interview with David Squires, a columnist from the Newport News, Va. Daily Press, Wright blamed "them Jews" for keeping him from talking to President Obama.
"Them Jews ain't going to let him talk to me," Wright said. "I told my baby daughter that he'll talk to me in five years when he's a lame duck, or in eight years when he's out of office." He added: "They will not let him to talk to somebody who calls a spade what it is. I said from the beginning. He's a politician, I'm a pastor. He's got to do what politicians do."
Wright, discussing his comments with Sirius/XM radio's host Mark Thompson on "Make it Plain," may have thought he issued a clarification--certainly to me no apology--but only added to the damage.
Said Wright, "I'm not talking about all Jews, all people of the Jewish faith, I'm talking about Zionists... I'm talking about facts, historical facts. I'm not talking about emotionally charged words.
"They can jump on that phrase if they want to,'' he said, "but they can't undo history and they can't undo the fact of Jewish historians and Jewish theologians who write about what's going on."
On Friday, the Daily Press reported that Wright posted a statement on his Facebook page.
Wrote Wright, "I am extremely disturbed and deeply saddened that once again my comments as reflected in the June 10, 2009, Daily Press article has resurfaced a divisive debate about my relationship with President Barack Obama. I love President Obama as my son, and support and honor him as the President of the United States of America and leader of the free world. I apologize to the Jewish community and all others who were offended by the way in which I framed my comments. I misspoke. I meant no harm or ill-will to the American Jewish community or the Obama Administration. My great respect for the Jewish faith and the foundational (and central) part of my Judeo Christian tradition are unquestionable, and I pray that all whom I have hurt accept my sincerest apology."
I understand that Wright has been hurting since the Obama team kicked him off the program when Obama formally announced his White House candidacy in Springfield, Ill., in February, 2007. Members of Chicago's Jewish community played a pivotal role in helping Obama launch the political career that led from the South Side of Chicago to the White House.
But Wright's banishment from the Obama world--the ultimate rejection of Wright by Obama came when he quit the church in 2008--has nothing to do with the U.S. Jewish community.
Wright is in exile because he embarrassed and disrespected Obama during the presidential campaign, capped by a selfish performance during a press conference at the National Press Club that had the potential to cost Obama his victory.
I'll take Wright's Facebook apology. He said he "misspoke" when he said "them Jews." I just wish he would understand how his celebrity--and yes, he should take comfort that his "son" Obama has made him famous, even in rejection--means that he needs to consider the impact of what he says.
The Holocaust museum-and Yad V'Shem in Jerusalem and the new Holocaust museum in Skokie, Ill. and other similar institutions-serve to preserve the facts of the Nazi goal to exterminate Jews.
On June 4, in Cairo, Egypt, Obama in his landmark speech on Islamic relations made a point to address Holocaust denial.
"America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.
"Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed -- more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction -- or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews -- is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve."
On June 5, at Buchenwald, Obama bore witness to the Holocaust of the past and genocides of the present at one of the major Nazi death camps.
"To this day, there are those who insist that the Holocaust never happened -- a denial of fact and truth that is baseless and ignorant and hateful. This place is the ultimate rebuke to such thoughts; a reminder of our duty to confront those who would tell lies about our history.
"Also to this day, there are those who perpetuate every form of intolerance -- racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, xenophobia, sexism, and more -- hatred that degrades its victims and diminishes us all. In this century, we've seen genocide. We've seen mass graves and the ashes of villages burned to the ground; children used as soldiers and rape used as a weapon of war. This places teaches us that we must be ever vigilant about the spread of evil in our own time, that we must reject the false comfort that others' suffering is not our problem and commit ourselves to resisting those who would subjugate others to serve their own interests.
"But as we reflect today on the human capacity for evil and our shared obligation to defy it, we're also reminded of the human capacity for good," Obama said.
Except, that is, for last Wednesday.