Thanks to all for making yesterday's posting one of the top diaries yesterday. I read all the comments -- and so did my daughter, over in London. We appreciate them very much. The story also drew wide attention at other popular sites.
She sent a followup last night feeling that she did not explain fully enough some of her feelings and reflections -- with a special tribute at the end for her former co-workers and the slain guard.
Here it is:
Yesterday, I wrote about the serious security concerns we all encountered while working at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. But really, this was just one facet of my experience there – an aspect magnified by the terrible violence that just occurred there, but by no means the only or dominant memory that I have.
I worked in Visitor Services and spent a lot of time talking to people both before and after their visits to the museum. It was indelibly striking, the emotion and sincerity with which people spoke to me.
I spoke to survivors of the Holocaust who had been waiting decades to see this kind of museum and memorial, who exhausted every physical strength they had to visit the museum in person. I spoke to veterans who had liberated concentration camps; as a unit, they walked into those horrors in 1945, and as a decimated unit of survivors, they walked into our museum in 1993. I received a package of letters from a Midwestern school: each student had walked through the museum and then written a heartfelt letter of thanks, expressing an idealism unworn by adult confrontation ("We shouldn’t hate anyone," was a popular sentiment).
In truth, I never spoke to anyone who had been through the main exhibit of the Museum who was not profoundly moved and seriously affected by the experience. This was not a foregone conclusion but the result of the sensitivity and empathy embedded within the exhibit by the curatorial staff, and the raft of educational and cultural programs that supported the Museum’s mission.
I remember, before the Museum opened, there was a great sense of wonder: how many visitors would come? The fact that 2 million people a year walk through the doors shows the visceral attraction of the Museum. People want to know: what happened? how could this happen? could it happen again? what would I have done – and what can I do now? These are not easy questions, but they are among the most important.
And this is why, despite all the security concerns I mentioned previously, all of us showed up to work every day. Yes, there were people who hated us. They might act upon it; but what can you do? Run away? No. A small number of people wished us ill. A huge number of people were enduringly affected by their visit. There was no contest. And when you live amid heightened security every day, you get used to it. You barely notice it. When you do, it’s worth it, when you see the impact you can have on people’s lives.
Working at the Museum was the best job I’ve ever had. My co-workers there were immensely talented, intelligent, funny, brave and audacious. Many of them still work there, and I can only imagine what they are going through right now. Do they still think it’s worth the risk to work there? I’m going to guess the answer is yes.
I never knew Stephen Johns, but he sounds like many of the security officers I knew then – friendly, helpful, always alert but unfailingly polite. I can’t help but think that when he saw that old man coming toward the door, he thought: here’s a survivor, or a veteran, someone to be treated with special respect. As watchful as the security team has always been, I’m not sure anyone would expect such an old man to be an armed threat. The fact that he would lose his life to such an abominable man is heartbreaking. I haven't seen posted yet any details of a memorial fund for his family and son, but I would urge everyone to keep checking and consider a contribution.
I wrote yesterday of the front lines in the struggle against right-wing extremism. This lovely man gave his life in this fight – a noble yet horrendous sacrifice that never should have been necessary. Let us echo the enduring phrase in his name: never again.
To visit Jeni Mitchell's blog, the Crime-Conflict Nexus, go via .
Greg Mitchell's latest book is "Why Obama Won." He is editor of Editor & Publisher.