Saturday, July 10, 2010

Holocaust Museum Lets Local Voices Memorialize

New York Times
April 18, 2009

Barbara Steiner survived life as a child in the Warsaw ghetto and three Nazi death camps, emerging against dreadful odds without family or belongings but with a powerful story to tell. Yet for decades she was quiet about her trauma, concentrating on a new life raising her children in this placid suburb northwest of Chicago.

In 1977, Skokie, home to many Holocaust survivors, drew national attention when a group of neo-Nazis tried to march there.

Thirty-two years ago this summer, however, that peace was shattered when a group of American neo-Nazis threatened to march through the village, a destination carefully picked for its psychological punch: at the time, Skokie was home to many thousands of Jews like Ms. Steiner who were Holocaust survivors or their relatives.

The threatened march put Skokie at the bull’s-eye of a national debate about free speech and democratic ideals. And although the march never materialized here, it prompted a movement among the death camp survivors that manifested itself in an urge to speak up and teach the lessons of their lives.

And so they organized a group and got to work.

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.