The photo, taken in 1935, depicts a woman in a dark dress shuffling down a street in Norden, Germany. A large sign hangs from her neck: “I am a German girl and allowed myself to be defiled by a Jew.” She is surrounded by Nazi stormtroopers.
D.C. Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) studied the image. “Are they protecting her?”
Lynn Williams, an expert on educational programs at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and White’s tour guide for the day, stared at the photo.
“No,” she said. “They’re marching her through.”
“Marching through is protecting,” White said.
“I think they’re humiliating her,” Williams replied.
White, who drew widespread criticism last month when he asserted that wealthy Jews control the weather, on Wednesday made a visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. With him was Rabbi Batya Glazer of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, a group that has been heavily involved in the first-term Democratic lawmaker’s public rehabilitation.
“There’s nothing more powerful than visiting the Holocaust museum for understanding the culture of the Jewish community, and our concerns about anti-Semitism,” Glazer told an uninvited reporter who shadowed the tour.
Those concerns surged after The Washington Post reported on White’s comments on his public Facebook page espousing a conspiracy theory linking the Rothschild family — a Jewish banking dynasty and frequent target of anti-Semitic propaganda — with a murky plot of climate manipulation.
White later apologized and said he did not realize Jews might consider his comments offensive. He attended a Passover Seder and a bagels-and-lox breakfast with local Jewish leaders at city hall. He did not publicize his visit to the museum off the Mall in Southwest Washington.
“It’s not like this is what you do when you’ve been bad,” Glazer said. “This is a place where one’s world view is completely altered.”
Also with White was his staff, which had closed the office early to join the guided tour. The overwhelmingly African American neighborhoods their office represents in Ward 8 are among the city’s poorest and most isolated.
The museum allows photos for personal use, and the council member and his aides took many. As Williams explained the workings of the Nazis’ pseudoscientific race propaganda, White held up his cellphone before a poster with images of black, Native American and Australian men, titled “Rassen der Erde” — “Races of the Earth.” An aide took a shot of a pile of Torahs desecrated on Kristallnacht.
The group paused before grainy photos of German troops executing Catholic clergy in Poland by firing squad. “Were they actually manufacturing these weapons?” White asked.
Moments later, White was nowhere to be seen.
Glazer, the rabbi, texted him to ask his whereabouts. He wrote back that he hoped to see her outside the museum but he had to leave soon for an event in Ward 8.
The tour, scheduled to last 90 minutes, was halfway done. Seven of White’s staff members stayed with the guide, who soon was showing them an exhibit on the Warsaw Ghetto. As she explained the walling in of Polish Jews, one aide asked whether it was similar to “a gated community.”
Glazer spoke up.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t call it a gated community,” she said. “More like a prison.”
The group continued without White, past a scale model of a gas chamber and photos of the residents of an eradicated shtetl. They stopped at the famous exhibit of shoes confiscated from concentration-camp prisoners.
The tour over, the rabbi praised White for being “very sincere in wanting to come here.” But she was perplexed by his abrupt exit.
“I do not know what happened, and I find it confusing,” she said.
White, it turned out, was standing alone on the sidewalk outside the museum.
“I’ll be coming back to see more of the museum. I didn’t get a chance to see the whole thing,” he said. “But I think it’s a lot of education here, a lot of synergy here between what happened to the Jewish community and the African community.”
Asked why he left the tour halfway and where he went, he said nothing and held his cellphone to his ear.
Asked whether he had reassessed his comments about the Rothschilds in light of what he had just seen, White walked east on Independence Avenue.
“This opportunity has given me the chance to meet a lot of great Jews, a lot of people. A lot of good Jews that I’ve never had the chance to meet before,” he said after a long silence. “It’s an awesome experience.”
Fenit Nirappil contributed to this report.