Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November/December 2018, p. 43
By Janet McMahon
2018 MARKS THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in the nation’s capital—and a successful quarter-century it’s been. So successful, in fact, that the museum met its $540 million anniversary fund-raising campaign—called Never Again: What You Do Matters—a year and a half ahead of schedule. In April—by which time it had raised $715 million from 366,000 donors, according to The Washington Post—the museum announced plans to increase that goal to $1 billion, to be raised by its 30th anniversary in 2023.
Built a few blocks from the National Mall on donated federal land—itself a taxpayer gift of enormous value—the Holocaust Museum has enjoyed American taxpayer funding for the entire quarter-century of its existence (see December 2003 Washington Report, p. 9). In the last decade alone, Congress has allocated more than half a billion dollars to the institution, whose director, Sara J. Bloomfield, received a salary of $520,896 in 2016 (the president of the United States earns $400,000 a year). Museums dedicated to the American, rather than European, history and people—such as the overwhelmingly popular National Museum of African American History and Culture, for which Congress allocated $270 million for construction costs and which celebrated only its second anniversary in September—receive significantly less in federal taxpayer funding.
In fiscal year 2019, for example, the Holocaust Museum will receive $58 million in American tax dollars, compared to less than $7 million for its young counterpart. The latter’s annual budget for 2017 was $41.3 million, versus more than $100 million for the Holocaust Museum. And virtually every year since its inception, the Holocaust Museum has received more taxpayer dollars than the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, which in FY2019 will receive slightly more than $40.5 million.
Moreover, the Holocaust Museum’s federal contribution apparently is sacrosanct: When President Donald Trump proposed a 5 percent cut of $3 million in his budget proposal for 2018, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle rebelled and rejected the modest cut (see Aug./Sept. 2017 Washington Report, p. 26)—even as they approved a 14 percent cut to the Department of Education, 18 percent cut to the Department of Health and Human Services, and 29 percent cut to the State Department.
As the above chart shows, the Holocaust Museum is hardly about to go under—quite the contrary! In fact, in 2014 and 2015 the museum would have been in the black even without its federal subsidy. It has not suffered a deficit since 2008—something most museums in this country can only dream of.
Despite the museum’s unrelenting efforts, fiscal health and taxpayer largesse, however, there seems to be growing concern that, as the number of Holocaust survivors inexorably diminishes, the message may be being lost as well. This concern takes the form of media stories such as The Washington Post’s “An 89-Year-Old Holocaust Survivor Worries: What Happens When We’re All Gone?” (Jan. 26, 2018) and “They Survived the Holocaust: Now the World Is Forgetting What They Endured” (April 23, 2018).
According to the latter, “Two-thirds of American millennials polled did not know what Auschwitz is, and 22 percent had not heard of the Holocaust or were not sure if they had, according to a new survey conducted by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.” Perhaps this accounts for the growing emphasis on anti-Semitism rather than Holocaust guilt.
The Holocaust Museum’s mission states: “The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity.” Perhaps writer David Rieff put his finger on the problem when, as quoted in the earlier Post article, he stated: “Since 1945, ‘never again’ has meant, essentially, ‘Never again will Germans kill Jews in Europe in the 1940s.’”
Janet McMahon is managing editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.