19 April 2009

Illinois: New Holocaust museum opens

Thirty-two years ago, a group of American neo-Nazis threatened to march through Skokie, a Chicago suburb. The town was home to many Jews who were either Holocaust survivors or their relatives.

Although the event never took place, it did provide the impetus for a movement among survivors that encouraged them to talk and to share the lessons of what they experienced.

The New York Times documented the story.

...All those decades of effort came to fruition this weekend in the form of the $45 million Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, in the very village the neo-Nazis had hoped to horrify. The museum was shaped by what may be the last generation of Holocaust survivors to have such influence over their own stories.

“It’s a dream come true and more,” Ms. Steiner said, preparing for the public opening on Sunday morning, at which former President Bill Clinton was scheduled to give a keynote address.

“Magnificent is the only word for something so beautiful,” she said.
The 66,000 square feet of exhibit space asks universal questions about human rights, as many Holocaust memorials do. But unlike similar institutions, the Skokie museum is almost totally anchored in the local, brought to life with the personal pictures, documents, clothing, testimonies and other artifacts of the building’s own neighbors.
Several survivors are docents and staff members and co-curator Yitzchak Mais was the former director of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

Long ago, the survivors (20-30 members) banded together in the Holocaust Memorial Foundation of Illinois and worked out of storefront, putting together a modest exhibit for schoolchildren and anyone who wanted to hear the stories. Today only there of the original group are still alive.

They did good work with a budget that was at most $200,000 a year. The storefront needed repairs. Should they just build a new center?

Museum executive director Richard S. Hirschhaut said they began to dream.

With the participation of philanthropist J. B. Pritzker of Chicago, who became the campaign chair a decade ago, the plans succeeded. He lead a pre-opening tour.

Read the complete article at the link above and learn all about the little group that could and did reach its goals.

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