Tuesday, June 16, 2009

TOP STORY >> Brother tells of shooting at D.C. museum

Leader editor-in-chief

School groups and other tourists are back at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

They line up for tickets early in the morning, hoping to get inside before the crowds get bigger. The museum is the second most popular tourist destination after the Smithsonian Institution.

The Holocaust Museum was closed for a day and a half last week after an 88-year-old Holocaust denier killed a security guard just inside the museum entrance.

My brother Steve, who works at the museum with Holocaust scholars, called around noon last Wednesday.

I thought he was calling about our mother, who lives in Miami and who hadn’t been feeling well. She is a Holocaust survivor, by way of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen (where Anne Frank died).

“There’s been a shooting at the museum,” Steve said. “We don’t know what’s going on.”

He had just gotten off an elevator on the fifth floor when he thought he’d heard gunshots not far away.

“What was that?” he asked the people who’d been in the elevator.

“There must be some construction going on,” somebody said.

“I guess I’m just being paranoid,” Steve said.

But he was right: He had heard several gunshots down below.

Although he was on the fifth floor, the entrance is just 20 yards from the elevator shaft.

The staff was told to get into an office and stay there. Several Holocaust scholars visiting the museum also locked themselves into a room.

When my brother called, there was still nothing about the shooting on TV, but a little while later a picture of the shooter emerged: A loser named James von Brunn, a lifelong Nazi sympathizer and Holocaust denier, had double parked outside the museum and walked in with a .22-caliber rifle by his side.

Stephen Tyrone Johns, 39, a black security guard who stood near the front door, helped the elderly man get inside.

Von Brunn shot him in the chest. Johns fell to the floor, fatally wounded. He died a couple of hours later.

Two security guards fired at von Brunn. One shot him in the face. Several black paramedics rushed the white supremacist and anti-Semite to the nearest hospital, where he’s probably being treated by doctors and nurses of an inferior race as far as von Brunn is concerned.

There’s no telling how the black guards and inmates will treat von Brunn in prison.

He’s so old, he’s not even a neo-Nazi. He’s just an old Nazi.

My brother and I have talked about the shooting several times since the ordeal. Because he works at the museum, Steve has seen documents that include the names of our parents and their families who were transported from the ghettoes in Hungary to the death camps around Europe. Although von Brunn may not know it, the Nazis kept meticulous records.

How could the Holocaust have happened? Hitler and his henchmen needed just a few thousand von Brunns to carry out the killings. Brunn would have been a young S.S. officer and a willing executioner if his parents hadn’t immigrated to the U.S.

Von Brunn served in the U.S. Navy during the Second World War. But he says he fought on the wrong side. He would have gladly died for old Adolf, his hero.

Instead, he’s lived a long, useless life, drifting from town to town, accomplishing nothing despite his intelligence and old age.

Steve says the museum guards are wearing black tape over their badges as a sign of mourning. Officer Johns will be buried on Friday.

The Holocaust scholars who were at the museum during the shooting quickly collected $800 to help Johns’ family. Others from around the world have also made donations.

You can give to the Stephen Tyrone Johns Memorial Fund by sending a check to USHMM Officer Johns Family Fund, 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024.

You can also make a gift by calling toll free 877-91-USHMM (877-918-7466) from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern time, or go to the Holocaust Museum Web site by Googling Stephen Tyrone Johns Memorial Fund.

As long as there are von Brunns in this world, they will remind us of the horrors of the Holocaust even as they try to deny it.

They’ll do it again, if we let them.