Traveling exhibit from U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum stops in Oklahoma City

An exhibit featuring the Nazi obsession with creating a master race is on display at Science Museum Oklahoma through July 5. "Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race" is a traveling exhibit compiled by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.


Edie Roodman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City, said bringing the exhibit to Oklahoma City is a cooperative effort with Science Museum Oklahoma.

"The exhibit is a seminal part of the Jewish Federation's continuous commitment to Holocaust commemoration and education," Roodman said. "We are fortunate to be partnering with Science Museum Oklahoma, as they helped us meet the stringent criteria to bring the exhibit to Oklahoma City."

The city is one of only three in North America to host the exhibit in 2009.

Susan Bachrach, curator of "Deadly Medicine," said the exhibit features hundreds of documents, objects, documentary photos, audio-visual programs and personal testimonies to help educate people concerning the practice of eugenics, both before and during the Holocaust.

"The program starts by explaining that eugenic ideas had currency in Europe and the United States before World War II," she said. "The basic idea was that certain people are superior to others. There was a radicalization of these ideas during the war years, but the question of how to perfect humanity was there before the Holocaust. The war simply allowed the Nazis to do things " such as exterminate mentally challenged people " that they would not have been able to do pre-war."

Bachrach said many of the audio-visual programs are focused on personal testimonies of survivors of Nazi eugenics: a woman who was sterilized because she was deaf, a woman sterilized because she was diagnosed as mentally ill, and many others, recounted in chilling detail.

Karen Carney, director of communications for Science Museum Oklahoma, said she has seen some of the exhibit pieces, and she believes people will be disturbed and moved by what they see.

"It's an incredibly powerful exhibit," she said. "Some of the images are disturbing because of the nature of the content, but it is well done and tastefully done. It will be thought-provoking in that people will have to think about the images in the context of the news today: science, medicine, cloning."

Bachrach said she hopes the exhibit does provoke some serious questions in people.

"A seemingly good or helpful idea, one that even seems reformist " how can you perfect human beings, solve health problems, etc. " can be co-opted by people of different racist or political agendas, and this reformist idea suddenly becomes dangerous," she said. "What happens when eugenics results in the forced sterilization of a race of people or people with handicaps?"

Roodman also sees the possibility of contemporary applications. Holocaust education is, after all, as much about instructing people about the past as it is preparing them to prevent future holocausts, so the questions raised by the exhibit need to be applied to today's world.

"I think of the somewhat slippery slope of biogenics," Roodman said. "I hope people will see the exhibit and consider how testing or experiments intended to benefit us can sometimes cross the line, and that they will understand how fuzzy that line can be."

Promotional literature distributed by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum frames the issue this way: "From the early twentieth-century international eugenics movements to present-day dreams of eliminating inherited disabilities through genetic manipulation, the issues remain timely."

The idea that we should seek human perfection, especially in terms of manipulating genes for intelligence, beauty, athletic prowess and disease prevention, is part of a larger set of questions, Bachrach said.

"A great deal of talk focuses on biological determinism," she said. "The idea that who and what we are is determined by our genes is something that needs to be questioned. Is this something we care about? Is there a danger to thinking this way? What cultural forces or pressures are moving people to seek human perfection? We hope that people are provoked to consider these ideas and to ask what is the value of individual human life."

The exhibit is located on the second floor of Science Museum Oklahoma, 2100 N.E. 52nd. The exhibit is self-guided and is also open to educational and tour groups.

Roodman said the exhibit coming to Oklahoma City is partly the result of the Jewish Federation's 18-year history of teaching Holocaust education in schools and commemorating the Holocaust in the community. Like Carney, she is hopeful that school groups will continue the education process by bringing students to the museum. "Greg Horton

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