This is surely the end of the beginning—but oh, what a long beginning it has been.

Lee Edwards—the great historian and the Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought at the Heritage Foundation—was there to inspire it, from start to completion. In an epic display of dedication of some 35 years, the concept of a museum to honor the victims of Communism—begun as a scratching on a napkin, and finding initial life as a powerful memorial—has just emerged.

Yesterday, on Monday, June 13th, in our Nation’s Capital the Victims of Communism Museum was opened to the public. Visitors can go to learn who was killed and who killed them . . . and to learn about the bloody ideology that could only find power through death and enslavement.

The idea for the museum came shortly after the Berlin Wall’s fall, in 1989, as Edwards recounted to National Review’s John Miller in 2007:

“I was having lunch with my wife and one of my daughters,” he says. “We were concerned that people didn’t seem interested in discussing the crimes of Communism, and that a general amnesia was settling in everywhere.” On a paper napkin he jotted down “memorial—victims of communism” and stuffed it into his pocket.

That important scribbling did not get lost at the cleaners. Bringing in the late Lev Dobriansky as his partner, a devoted and motivated Edwards set about to see: just how does one create a museum in Washington, D.C.? The National Park Service’s formal procedures called for a 24-step process.

And that was just for a memorial. But through persistence and conviction—and federal legislation signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993—Victims of Communism Memorial Statue was erected and unveiled in June 2007. A powerful homage to the Tiananmen Square “Goddess of Democracy” statue, this memorial was located in the shadow of Capitol Hill—a next step towards a museum remembering the dead and exposing the ideology that killed them.

But there remained this larger vision: a museum with a greater capacity to educate American citizens about the intrinsic evils of Communism and to publicize its claim on over a hundred million dead. Edwards and Dobriansky, who passed away in 2008, commenced the effort to find a building, raise the funds, and create an organization of the willing—the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, whose chairman is former Heritage Foundation president Edwin J. Feulner—who would bring the fuller vision to fruition.

Their efforts succeeded. Yesterday, that building, and the exceptional displays it holds, opened to the public: a testament in no small part to Edwards’ dedication, and the realization amongst conservatives (and others who knew intimately the evils of Marxist-Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, Castrosim, and all other varieties of liberty-crushing enslavement) that there was a need to awaken America, and especially its socialism-lauding youth, from the amnesia that had troubled the scholar and writer of remarkable longevity: Edwards was published in a barely new National Review magazine in 1958.

(An excellent piece By National Review’s Jack Wolfsohn about the new museum and its holdings can be read here.)

The scope of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation transcends bricks and mortar. Long before the museum neared completion, the Foundation had created an impressive array of creative programs and related efforts that would supplement and expand on the museum’s theme. There was much more to be done than honoring the staggering number of the dead and those sentenced to the gulag and the laogai. 

There was also the work of honoring those who oppose communism today. Educating the living about the death and destruction wrought by this ideology. And exposing the ongoing communist regimes today.

Every year the Foundation awards a Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom to someone who has “demonstrated a lifelong commitment to freedom and democracy and opposition to communism and all other forms of tyranny.” Its Witness Project has created an acclaimed short-video series featuring “courageous men and women who experienced life under communism and want to share their cautionary and inspiring stories. And the Foundation’s research arm has proven aggressive and impressive. An annual China Forum conference of experts is dedicated to focusing American attention on “the nature of the People's Republic of China, the Chinese Communist Party, and key issues in U.S.-China relations.” And Foundation-supported scholars have produced illuminating studies that can delve into very troubling and shocking subjects, such as a recent Execution by Organ Procurement report which documents “the intimate involvement of transplant surgeons in China in the execution of prisoners via the procurement of organs.”

The proclaimed purpose of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation is “TEACHING TRUTH. SEEKING JUSTICE. KEEPING MEMORY.”

It’s bold. But as its museum’s doors opened to the general public yesterday, the efforts of Lee Edwards, and so many others who have worked with him for over a generation to forge a lasting and provocative effort to speak truth to evil, while remembering those many slaughtered by this bloodthirsty ideology, show that this claim has already been proven and justified. This well-conceived and impressive effort is deserving of gratitude by those who yearn for a powerful public defense of human dignity—something which is ever a target of those fixated on redefining the nature of man, and who are quite eager to destroy those who stand in their nefarious way.

The Victims of Communism Museum is located at 900 15th Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20005. It operates from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. weekdays, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Saturdays. It is closed on Sundays. Admission is free. Tickets can be ordered here.