- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 9, 2003

A decade-long effort to build a museum in the District honoring the estimated 100 million people killed by communist regimes has been undermined by poor leadership and difficulties in fund raising, a U.S. congressman said yesterday.

The project was originally conceived as a $100 million structure, similar to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. But problems with leadership and fund raising have forced organizers to downsize the project to a $450,000 memorial.

The project’s struggles have prompted some scholars and writers to worry that Americans are forgetting the deadly toll of communism.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, the California Republican who sponsored the legislation in 1993 that authorized the memorial, blamed the lack of progress in part on the leadership of the group charged with raising funds, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

The memorial was authorized to be built on public land using private funds. Mr. Rohrabacher, who supports a simpler memorial, said the plans for a $100 million museum were “too grandiose.”

Lee Edwards, chairman of the board, acknowledged that for many years the foundation had the “wrong objective.”

“The bricks-and-mortar museum was too big a project. The $100 million figure was too large. As soon as we reversed our priorities and made the memorial our first objective, we began getting support,” Mr. Edwards said.

He said two executives over the last four years were hired and fired after being found ineffective. The first was paid $2,000 a month over 18 months and the second was paid $5,000 a month over about a year.

Jay Katzen, a former U.S. diplomat who spent time in communist Romania from 1969-71, is now the president and chief executive officer of the foundation. His revised plan is to install by October a memorial near the Mall with the $450,000 they have raised so far.

A hearing will be held tomorrow on where to put the monument, which will be a replica of a statue created by student activists in China and then destroyed by the communist government’s tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

The foundation favors a site at the corner of First Street and Louisiana Avenue NW. The memorial will be complemented by an online “virtual” museum, to be up and running in June.

But Alan C. Kors, a professor of European intellectual history at the University of Pennsylvania, said the victims of communism deserve more in the capital of the free world.

“No cause, ever, in the history of mankind, has produced more cold-blooded tyrants, more slaughtered innocents and more orphans than socialism with power. It surpassed, exponentially, all other systems of production in turning out the dead. The bodies are all around us. And here is the problem: No one talks about them. No one honors them. No one does penance for them,” Mr. Kors said in a recent speech.

The lead editorial in the December issue of the Atlantic Monthly draws attention to the foundation and to the fact that communist ideas are no longer alarming to some.

“Communism, not Nazism or racism or whatever other -ism you please, is the deadliest fantasy in human history, and even Americans, for all our struggles against it, have not yet looked it in the face,” wrote Atlantic correspondent Jonathan Rauch.

Mr. Kors said the tens of millions killed by communist regimes should be remembered — just as the 6 million Jews slain in the Holocaust are. The Holocaust Memorial Museum in the District was completed in 1993 and cost $168 million.

“The West accepts an epochal, monstrous, unforgivable double standard. We rehearse the crimes of Nazism almost daily; we teach them to our children as ultimate historical and moral lessons; and we bear witness to every victim. We are, with so few exceptions, almost silent on the crimes of communism,” said Mr. Kors.

Mr. Rohrabacher agreed that the two genocides were horrible, but disagreed that a communism museum is necessary. “The monument they have in mind, along with a virtual museum, will do just fine. … You can reach more people with an investment into a first class Web-site museum rather than a huge building. Money should be put into substance rather than into facilities and personnel,” he said.

The foundation hopes to one day build a full museum. But Mr. Katzen wants to get the monument — a statue on less than an acre of land — finished first. To that end, he has shut down the foundation’s office to save money and turned his cell phone into the main phone number.

“The people who are involved now seem to have their act together, and I’m very impressed,” Mr. Rohrabacher said.

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