Like many women who grew up in the postwar era, California Sen. Barbara Boxer says the Holocaust has affected her life ever since she was a little girl reading Anne Frank's diary in Brooklyn.
Though Boxer's immediate family was safe in New York, she understood that many of her relatives in Eastern Europe would never make it to America. Now she hopes to help make sure all the lost relatives of American Jews aren't forgotten.
Last month, the Greenbrae Democrat was appointed to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, which oversees the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. She joins 55 presidential appointees from various nongovernmental fields, five members of Congress and four other senators on the council.
"The Holocaust is part of my psyche and part of me. There are certain things you feel that change you; sometimes history changes you. I was secure in America but [the Holocaust] had so much impact on me. I always knew I wanted to make sure nothing like that happened again," said Boxer in a phone interview from the Capitol.
"The museum is an extraordinary place," she added.
Other politicians on the council include Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo), former Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).
The first time she visited the museum, which houses the largest collection of Holocaust artifacts in the world, Boxer was "extremely moved and deeply saddened. It's a great, great, great institution with a message for everyone."
Miles Lerman, chairman of the council and a Holocaust survivor, says he is confident after a meeting with Boxer last month that she is "intellectually tuned in properly to our aims and objectives."
The senator, he said, "fully understands the magnitude of our task, the dangers of bigotry and racism of any kind and how important it is to take these bitter memories from 50 years ago and apply them to the society we live in today — as a moral compass for our own country."
Boxer's first goal is to take the museum's exhibits "on the road" around the country, so that those who cannot afford to visit the institution can still learn from viewing artifacts like a boxcar used to transport Jews to Treblinka and bullet shells pulled from trees in a Polish forest.
A traveling museum, though expensive, would be an effective educational tool, says Boxer, adding that it should appeal to leaders across the political spectrum.
"Education is the word of the day. Both parties are saying how important it is. These exhibits don't just teach history, but social conscious, values and humanity."