War museum experts hold symposium in Hiroshima

(by Junji Akechi, Staff Writer)

Museum experts from around the world gathered in Hiroshima last week to discuss ways of commemorating war victims, and how to share the legacy of wartime experiences. The symposium, held September 5th at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in Naka Ward, drew about 230 concerned citizens. Conveying the devastating consequences of war and what role museums should play in our lives, were two of the common, yet difficult, themes covered.

Clifford Chanin, Executive Vice President of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York, gave the keynote speech. He explained that citizens of the United States hoped to have a commemorative facility from very early on, but societal wants, he said, did not necessarily correspond with those of the families personally affected by the attacks. He also added that the personal sorrow which originally belonged to the bereaved families, was made public and entered public domain by opening the museum. The museum opened to the public in 2014, on the site of the 2001 coordinated terrorist attacks upon the United States.

Iratxe Momoitio, director of the Gernika Peace Museum in Spain, explained the details of the indiscriminate 1937 attacks on that city during the Spanish Civil War. Spain’s Franco dictatorship, at the time, was complicit in the attacks and tried to cover up its involvement. She said, “It is important to convey these facts to the next generation to ensure such a thing will never take place again.”

Jane Klinger, chief conservator of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., delivered a presentation about photographers who risked their lives by secretly photographing the persecution, transport to concentration camps, and slaughter of Jews by the Nazis, and subsequently handed down these photos to the next generation. She said that these photos are not only historical records, but also proof of human nature.

The symposium was an off-site meeting of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) General Conference, held from September 1st in the City of Kyoto. It was sponsored by the International Committee of Memorial Museums in Remembrance of the Victims of Public Crimes (IC-MEMO), one of ICOM’s international committees. ICOM’s member museums share information about the damage and suffering caused by war and terrorism.

(Originally published on September 6, 2019)