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Holocaust Museum Reopens

While friends remember slain guard and canceled play moves to GWU

Allison Hoffman
June 12, 2009

A troop of Girl Scouts from Dallas were among the first people in line this morning at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which re-opened today, two days after anti-Semitic Holocaust denier James von Brunn allegedly tried to storm the federal facility. “To say that we can’t do this because of this event is that man winning,” troop leader Liz Johnson told the AP. “We’re not going to let him win.” Von Brunn, who remains hospitalized in critical condition, was charged yesterday with first-degree murder in the killing of guard Stephen T. Johns, who was shot at point-blank range in the chest as he moved to hold a door open for the 88-year-old von Brunn. A high school friend of Johns, a 39-year-old father from Temple Hills, Md., told reporters he was just the kind of person who would help someone like von Brunn. “If Steve saw an old lady struggling with groceries, he’d go help her,” Kevin Martin told the AP. Johns’ mother, Jacqueline Carter, told the wire her son, who spent six years working at the Holocaust museum, was her “teddy bear.”

The AP is also reporting that an official with the union representing the guards says he pushed for bulletproof vests after a man made threatening remarks to guards there several years ago. The wire service notes that von Brunn, a former Navy officer, went to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., last month to complain about increased minority enrollment at the school. The museum, meantime, was to host the premiere of a new play on Wednesday, the day of the shooting, called Anne & Emmett, which imagines a conversation between Anne Frank and Emmett Till, both teenaged victims of racism. “I went from opening-night jitters to murder at the museum,” playwright Janet Langhart Cohen told the Washington Post. “It was like a bad dream: A white racist killed a black man at a Jewish shrine.” The play will go on tonight at George Washington University.

Allison Hoffman is a senior editor at Tablet Magazine. Her Twitter feed is @allisont_dc.