After shooting, the crowds return

Holocaust Memorial Museum sees normal traffic; rabbis prepare response

The Associated PressJune 13, 2009 

— Liz Johnson showed up Friday to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum with 12 Girl Scouts in tow. None of them was alive when the Holocaust took place, but they were determined that a fatal shooting at the museum two days earlier wouldn't keep them from supporting its mission.

The members of the Dallas troop were among the hundreds of visitors who streamed into the museum as it opened for the first time since authorities said 88-year-old James von Brunn of Annapolis, Md. gunned down a security guard who had opened the door for him.

"To say that we can't do this because of this event is that man winning," said Johnson, 35, whose group clad in lavender T-shirts was among the first people in line. "We're not going to let him win."

The museum, which was closed Thursday for a day of mourning, opened to crowds that officials said were about the same size as usual this time of year.

Meanwhile, rabbis around the country were preparing to discuss the shooting with their congregations at weekend services. At the conservative B'Nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton, Fla., Rabbi David Englander expected the shooting to resonate with the 1,300-family temple's numerous Holocaust survivors.

"This is an assault on what they went through," Englander said. "This isn't just some statistic or some random act of violence. It's representative of Holocaust denial everywhere."

At the museum, few signs of the shooting remained. The crime scene tape was gone, and the bullet-scarred front doors had been replaced.

About two dozen flower bouquets near the entrance formed a makeshift memorial to the slain guard, Stephen T. Johns, 39, who lived in Temple Hills, Md. On top of one bouquet was a photo of Johns with the inscription, "Truly a righteous Gentile." The term "righteous gentile" has been used to describe non-Jewish people who took risks to save Jews from the Holocaust.

Before talking Friday to museum visitors about surviving the Holocaust, 89-year-old Charles Stein of Springfield, Va., called von Brunn a "crazy one" and said he was concerned there could be copy-cats. The native Austrian's parents were killed in Nazi gas chambers in 1942.

He added that the world will always have its share of Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites such as von Brunn. "There's nothing you can do about it," Stein said. "Unfortunately, we have laws to protect people like him for saying whatever he wants to say."

Authorities have charged von Brunn with murder in the Wednesday attack and are considering whether to file hate crime charges. Von Brunn, who was shot in the face by other guards, remained in critical condition Friday.

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