Holocaust museum to open in Skokie

By Evan Minsker

In the United States, there are more than 20 museums memorializing the Holocaust. This week, Skokie, Ill., will join the likes of Washington, D.C., New York and Los Angeles with the opening of the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center.

The public grand opening of the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, 9603 Woods Drive, is scheduled to take place on April 19. The sold-out event is headlined by keynote speaker former President Bill Clinton, and special guest and Nobel Laureate, Elie Wiesel.

The museum’s opening marks almost 30 years of work from the Holocaust Memorial Foundation of Illinois. In 1981, the group formed in response to the attempted neo-Nazi marches in Skokie in 1977 and 1978.

Kelley Szany, associate director of education for the museum,  said Holocaust education is becoming increasingly necessary with each year that passes.

“The witnesses and survivors of the Holocaust are slowly disappearing,” Szany said. “There’s a collapsing window of time, I believe, to document this and to really create a memorial to their memory.”

In addition to a permanent exhibit that includes video testimony from survivors and an authentic German railcar from the Holocaust, the museum will include a youth section and a rotating temporary show.  Szany said the permanent exhibition of the museum will feature 500 artifacts from local survivors.

Elliot Lefkovitz teaches about the Holocaust at the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies and Loyola University. He has been involved with the Holocaust Memorial Foundation for more than 25 years. Lefkovitz said Skokie is an especially important place to open a Holocaust museum.

“Skokie was home to probably the largest, certainly in terms of a village, the largest concentration of survivors in the country at one time,” Lefkovitz said. “Their stories and their memory needs to be preserved.”

The temporary show space is called the Legacy of Absence Gallery, which will focus on both historical and contemporary genocides and human rights violations. Szany said the gallery will feature artwork that focuses on the Armenian Genocide, the Rwandan Genocide, the disappearances in Argentina, the comfort women of Korea and the slave trade in the United States.

“As an organization devoted to memory, out of the Holocaust grew this motto of ‘never again,’” Szany said. “We can’t be an organization without making sure that’s a promise for today. And unfortunately, we see that genocide and human rights violations continue to happen.”

The Miller Family Youth Exhibition is aimed toward children between 8 and 11 years old. The purpose of the space is to educate young adults on moral and ethical decisions.

According to its website, the exhibit is meant to teach young people to speak out against racism, intolerance and discrimination by focusing on lessons from the Holocaust.

The museum has had tremendous support from other museums across the country. Jean Cavender, director of the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center in St. Louis, said the nation’s Holocaust museums are allies, not competitors.

“You can’t have enough of this,” Cavender said. “So often it’s a reminder of how an enlightened society can go so terribly wrong.”

Lefkovitz said the offerings of a place like the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center are invaluable.

“It’s not just a matter of memory,” he said, “but also using those memories to try to create a better future.”

For more information on the Holocaust Museum, call (847) 967-4800 or visit at ILHolocaustMuseum.org.