Museum of Tolerance admits visitors through the door of prejudice

LOS ANGELES — LOS ANGELES -- "Greasy dago." "Jungle bunny." "What you gonna do about it, Jew-boy?"

The words rain down on you behind the partition, coming as if from punks in hiding. You have read about this exhibit, of the teen-age boys who broke up in laughter at its canned messages of hate. But it is the furthest thing from funny. You feel, for a moment, as if you were walking through a dark alley, not "The Whisper Gallery" of a high-tech museum.


Los Angeles' $50 million Museum of Tolerance opened in February and was quickly overshadowed by the Holocaust Museum in Washington. As part of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Tolerance Museum focuses heavily, and perhaps most movingly, on the Holocaust.

But it is not limited to that horror. Its goal is to examine the forces and the feelings, especially as they manifest themselves in American life, that can lead to related acts of inhumanity.


And, as a result, it goes beyond the Holocaust and deals with contemporary issues and dilemmas.

Two high school students -- Valley Girls perhaps -- stand preoccupied in front of a video screen. Like everyone, they have come through the door marked "Prejudiced." (The other door, which no one entered,and which does not open, was labeled "Unprejudiced.")

There is an unmistakable game show quality to the layout, as if you were on the set of "Let's Make a Deal." This is, after all, Los Angeles. But the chambers and closed doors and flashing computer terminals capture the attention of the young, who, of course, are the museum's primary target.

A question appears on the computer screen in front of the two girls. "Can the beating of Rodney King ever be justified?" They are given a choice of responses, ranging from "Strongly agree" ++ (that it can) to "Strongly disagree."

Elsewhere in the room, videos replay scenes of the L.A. riots. Girls in Catholic school uniforms watch a filmed cocktail party where guests are heard to say things like, "They're taking all the good jobs," and, "always living off our taxes."

Others stand in front of a large screen that flashes "simple" declarative sentences. "Indians are savage." "Men are brave." "Blacks got rhythm." "Fat men are jolly." Above the screen are the words: "Images that stay with us?"

Around the corner is a 10-minute film on genocide. It begins with the Armenians in Turkey, shows the harrowingly familiar piles of well-ordered skulls in Cambodia (a close-up on the one still blindfolded) and ends with the indigenous Indians in Venezuela and Colombia.

Farther along are computers on which you can choose among "Klan," "Neo-Nazi," "Skinhead," "White Supremacist" and "Other." And, by pushing the appropriate boxes, you can get not only the location of the nearest group, but information on its leaders and activities.


One wall is covered with a chronology marking not only historic milestones in human rights throughout the decades but ignominious failures. Next door is a civil rights film, and the Holocaust section.

Before entering the Holocaust section, a screen asks "Who is responsible?" And the answer is given on individual screens in nearly a dozen languages:

You are.