St. Louis Holocaust Museum expansion planned

Wednesday, May 5, 2010 | 10:24 a.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — On Holocaust Remembrance Day each year at area synagogues, survivors of the Nazi atrocities and their families walk somberly through the audience and light candles to show that they will never forget.

And every year, one special candle shines for others — for the people of Rwanda or Bosnia, Darfur, the Congo or Myanmar — for any people oppressed, tortured or murdered because of hate.

Now, in honor of its 15th anniversary, the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center plans to expand its permanent exhibition to shine its light on those people.

Drawings and concepts for the addition will be unveiled at a 15th anniversary dinner May 16 at the Frontenac Hilton.

The addition, in renovated office space at the museum, is jointly sponsored by the museum and Webster University. Its graduate students will regularly update the content on an interactive touch-screen under the supervision of professors Warren Rosenblum and Michael Hulsizer.

Gloria Feldman of Ladue is funding the addition, which is expected to be completed in the summer of 2011.

It will likely include an interactive world map identifying hotspots of conflict and human rights violations. The exhibit would suggest ways to take action to combat these crimes. Local hate crimes might be included.

Myrna Meyer, a museum board member who chairs the permanent exhibition committee, said that visitors today "have a very moving experience" but don't know about current genocides.

Daniel Reich, curator, said that after the Nazi Holocaust that killed 6 million Jews, many people pledged, "Never Again!"

"'Never Again' hasn't held true — there have been subsequent genocides and human rights violations," he said. "The bystander mentality of the rest of the world and the indifference persists to this day. The lessons have not been learned."

One purpose of the annex is to encourage people to take action against injustice or bullying, said Jean Cavender, executive director of the museum.

"We want to try to instill that with the students who come to the museum," she said. "We want them to leave knowing this is not something that happened 65 years ago; it is relevant to what's happening today."

An exhibition on Bosnian genocide that the museum staff created with local Bosnians has been exhibited on Capitol Hill and at the United Nations.

The anniversary dinner will feature a video produced by Marci Rosenberg, chairman of the museum's council, showing local Holocaust survivors telling their stories to school children.

The guest speaker will be Michael Berenbaum, an expert and author on the Holocaust who supervised the creation of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. He also was president of Steven Spielberg's Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation.

The St. Louis museum, one of 16 Holocaust museums in the U.S., opened in 1995, spurred by Holocaust survivors who had resettled here. Since then, it has drawn about 30,000 people a year — including about 25,000 students from over 500 schools. About 85 percent of visitors are not Jewish.

Holocaust Remembrance Day — or Yom HaShoah — was held last month and gives people an opportunity to mourn for all the millions of innocent people who perished at the hands of the Nazis.

Its intent is reflected in the last exhibit at the museum, which includes the words of a survivor of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany. They are: "I have told you this story not to weaken you but to strengthen you. Now it is up to you."

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