The Creation of the Magnes Museum
(Written in 1987 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Judah L. Magnes Museum)
By Rebecca Camhi Fromer, Co-founder of the Magnes Museum
To the outward world the war was over, but to me, the awesome facts of human depravity in ordinary men remain like a brand that is forever seared into consciousness. They are a goad and a spark to a largeness of kinship, and they extend to all those who strive to be unfettered and unmurdered, for we now know with absolute certainty that slaughter may be as prosaic or subtle as it is rationalized, seductive, and mechanized. Our age has learned it cannot circumvent the fact that entire nations are not only capable of genocide, but also culpable in embracing it within their daily lives in acts of pathetically natural accommodation.

I write as I do because the holocaust, which some doubt, suppress, forget or banalize, and others remember but cannot encompass, was the dominant strain which led to the creation of the Magnes Museum. Something deep, with neither voice nor choice, had entered the realm of absolute knowing and assumed the value of a vow, and that vow carried within it the conviction to remember, even as It refused to suffer or grieve or accept sorrow as an everlasting epitaph for the Jew. Before the ashes there was life, and that life would be celebrated, and, perhaps, if we were lucky or meritorious or both, the act of celebration would constitute restoration of the name and serve to sanctify it.

Rebecca and Seymour Fromer in 1997.


Magnes Museum founders Rebecca and Seymour Fromer (1962).
Acts of Remembrance

For my part, I would not, I could not forget, for every act of remembrance ransomed a person, a family, a village or a city, and, because of the enormity of the disaster, in some cases whole civilizations. But to remember alone was not enough; it was as a matchstick against the bonfire. I needed to know that I could somehow in some small way be part of the "restoration," the "reconstruction of mind" that could allow those lives and those ways to reside within me and others like a perennial flame that may be engendered and shared. I had no recourse, really, in every way I saw myself as a survivor, and in no way did the accident of birth isolate me or make me feel smug. On the contrary, it made me determined to acquit myself well, even if it were -- as it is -- for a tiny moment in the bucket of time. My family had dwindled catastrophically; I would make it large again, and there were many like me.

In a surprisingly-swift cognition, I was not only impelled to look at the simplest artifacts of Jewish life and no longer see them as personal items, but also catapulted into the notion of extending the vision of who we are or think we are, and what we may become. Did we really know who we were or where we came from? Had we any idea of our diversity, or had we somehow gotten stuck behind a familiar frame which stood for, but narrowed the whole? Indlviduatlon seemed vital to me, and every nuance was a special tone, a new color In the geneological arc.

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