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July 5, 2020 10:09 pm

Auschwitz Memorial and Museum Weighs in on Controversy Over Tearing Down Statues

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Jona Laks, survivor of Dr. Josef Mengele’s twins experiments and her granddaughter, Lee Aldar stand next to the gate with the slogan “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work sets you free”) as they start their visit at the Auschwitz death camp in Oswiecim, Poland January 26, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Nir Elias.

The Memorial and Museum at Auschwitz-Birkenau, which maintains the remains of the death camp where a million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, weighed in on the controversy over tearing down monuments to historical figures in the US and Europe.

The tearing down of statues began in the US, mostly targeting Confederate figures, slave-owners, and racists. The calls quickly spread, however, to figures like Christopher Columbus and Thomas Jefferson. In the UK, a statue of Winston Churchill was vandalized.

The Auschwitz museum’s statement came in response to a comment from US pollster and political commentator Frank Luntz who tweeted that, like Auschwitz, statues honoring figures like Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln should remain standing.

“We can see a lot of ‘Auschwitz’ mentions recently,” the museum’s official English language Twitter account stated. “Remember that a preserved historic site does not equal a statue erected to honor a person. The two have entirely different roles, contexts, messages & meanings. Drawing a simple comparison here is incorrect.”

The controversy first erupted on Twitter after Luntz posted a picture of a quote by philosopher George Santayana: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Luntz said, “These words are inscribed on the wall at Auschwitz, where a memorial is maintained so we never forget.”

“Leaving most monuments in place while stating the inhumanities associated with them is a better lesson for future generations than tearing them down indiscriminately in anger,” he added.

Luntz’s tweet was widely criticized, with commenters saying that what has become a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust cannot be compared to monuments honoring slave-owners, racists, or other morally reprehensible figures.

Luntz responded to the criticism, saying, “I’m seeing lots of backlash so I’ll clarify: I said most monuments should stay, not all of them.”

“Confederate statues shouldn’t be in public squares; statues of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abe Lincoln should,” he added. “But the latter are being targeted too, which is absurd.”

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