Since tickets were already booked, we boarded the plane, committed to enjoy our vacation, extra carefully. In order to do so, we adopted ourselves new identities – Fred and Rachel from California, USA.
Throughout our stay, we were alert, constantly looking for any sign of hatred or violence. Surprisingly, except for a few "Free Gaza" signs here and there, leftovers from demonstrations, our stay was hate-free. That is until our last day, during our visit to the Madame Tussauds wax museum, when I saw things I can never unsee.
I usually love visiting their museums worldwide, and never miss a chance to take some "selfies" with my favorite celebrities. Sadly and shockingly, my last visit was one I will never forget, and not in a good way.
In their "world leaders" display in London, there is a wax figure of Adolf Hitler. He is not placed next to famous dictators, behind a glass wall with a request not to take any pictures and a statement he is there for educational purposes only, but just stands there, looking powerful and fearsome, next to leaders such as Churchill, David Cameron and Gandhi. There are no others dictators on that display. Just Hitler, among about 15 admirable leaders.
As a Jew, but also as a human being, I think it's extremely important that we all remember Hitler and the destruction he caused to mankind. I think we all must know this monstrous person and his vicious tactics and let his memory be an everlasting warning to us all from blinded obedience and pinning the blames for our troubles on a minority.
His memory should be a constant reminder about the importance of acceptance. Only by remembering Hitler and his horrifying actions, can we prevent the Holocaust or any attempt to eliminate a minority, from ever reoccurring.
Madame Tussauds' display of Hitler does quite the opposite. The description that follows his name plaque, "Leader of Nazi Germany, Protagonist of World War II and the Holocaust," does not portray him as the monster he was and does not emphasize the mass murders and the vicious actions. In fact, never in my life have I heard such a laconic description of him.
Moreover, having him placed next to famous world leaders, added to the fact that the museum invites people to "meet their idols in person," does more damage than good, which makes me wonder why they even placed him there in the first place.
As expected from visitors in their museums, many people took pictures with their "buddy" Hitler. Since I was intrigued by the mysterious reason behind the decision to place it there, I stood in front of it for a few minutes, watching as people passed it, and examined their responses.
Some just stood there with a surprised look on their faces. Others stood between him and Churchill as their friends took their pictures. Later on, I saw several people hugging him, or mimicking his position. Others pretended to hit him in the face.
Just when I was about to move on, after my dropped jaw returned to its place, I saw something that got my heart pounding and brought tears to my eyes. One by one, three people stood by him and raised their hand, performing the Nazi salute, "Heil Hitler," as their family members took their photos.
Could be that they thought it was funny, and maybe they did it out of ideology, but bottom line is – they did it, and no one was there to stop them. I tried to say something, but could not speak. The image in front of me was very similar to the ones I saw in history class at school, only it happened now, nearly 80 years later, in what is considered a modern, liberal society.
The image of those people, smiling and feeling proud, is forever engraved in my memory. Considering the many responses I received for the open letter I wrote to the museum and posted on my blog, "Israelife," I know I am not the first nor the last one to undergo such an experience as long as this figure stands there, as part of their "world leaders" display.
After I calmed down, I asked to speak to a manager. He was very kind. He apologized for me having to see what I saw and said he understands why it must be disturbing, but also explained that there is nothing he can do, for they rely on people using their common sense and are unable to police them. I thanked him, and left, knowing I will never come back.
His reply was more than appropriate, and I agree – there is nothing that he can do and the museum’s employees can't police and monitor every visitor. However, there is something the museum’s management can do. As a company, they need to make a decision to remove the Hitler figure from their wax museum in London, or place it in a more appropriate place, behind a glass wall, alongside other vicious dictators from our history, in a way that tells the visitors of his actions against minorities that brought the human race to a new low.
Since the purpose of their museums is to provide people with the opportunity to "meet" their favorite celebrities, and less to educate them about history, though, I believe there is no room for a Hitler figure in any of their museums.
It’s hard for me to blame those who took a photo with the Hitler figure. They probably don’t realize just how horrifying it is for people like me to watch his figure, not to mention people interacting with it. Even if they do realize that, they are probably not educated enough about the Holocaust, and are unaware of the fact that Hitler was a threat to all minorities, not only Jews, and that if he was alive today, many of them wouldn’t have been around, either.
I do, however, blame the museums for trusting their visitors' common sense and placing this figure there. I am sure they are aware of the controversy involving a Hitler wax figure the way it is placed, and thus, it is up to them to either help educate the public or remove the figure altogether.
The many hateful comments I received on my "open letter" blog post, including many of the "You Jews need to stop telling people what to do" or "Hitler did the world only good," prove this point right.
The Holocaust, as a consequence of Hitler's action, should not be only the estate of Jews worldwide, but of the entire world. In times of rising anti-Semitism, in Europe especially, it is up to us, the educated, to remember and remind those who forgot, so that history will never repeat itself. Only by remembering and reminding can we prevent hatred from turning into action and risking any minority in our liberal, diverse world.
True, removing the Hitler wax figure probably won't stop the raging wave of hatred, but at least it won't give it a stage and won't help it grow.
• Sadly, so far, neither I nor any of those who turned to the museum’s management following my open letter have receive a response.