With ribbon cut and prizes awarded, construction of a Holocaust museum prepares to commence

With ribbon cut and prizes awarded, construction of a Holocaust museum prepares to commence

By Joel Magalnick, Editor, The Jewish Sound

Henry Friedman had a message for the nearly 100 school-aged kids and their parents who sat in the shell of what will soon become the museum that bears his name: “It’s not for Holocaust survivors,” he said. “It’s for you.”

The event, an award ceremony for the winners of the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center’s annual writing and art contest, also marked the groundbreaking, so to speak, of construction of the Henry and Sandra Friedman Holocaust Center for Humanity. When it opens in early 2015 at Second and Lenora in downtown Seattle, the center will be the first Holocaust museum in the Pacific Northwest and will nearly triple the amount of space the Holocaust Center has at its current location a block away, which it rents from the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle.

“We chose this as a location because we want to welcome as many visitors as possible,” said Dee Simon, the Holocaust Center’s executive director. The museum will lie along a “museum corridor” bound by Seattle Art Museum and the Pacific Science Center.

The $3.4 million project — $1.2 million already raised went to purchase the cavernous 6,000-square-foot space in the recently constructed Cristalla building, while $1.2 million is still needed to complete the capital campaign — is expected to serve 15,000 visitors in the first year, with that number projected to double by 2019. Those figures come from comparisons to similar-sized museums in Cincinnati and St. Louis, according to Simon.

In addition to the exhibit gallery, the museum will host conference space, a research area, a bookstore, and library.

“It will allow us to provide primary sources, which teachers who are teaching social studies require,” Simon said. In addition, “students will now have an opportunity to learn through local Holocaust testimony and artifacts…and about stages of human rights violations that in the extreme lead to genocide, and in the everyday lives of the students that lead to lessons on bullying, suicide, hate crimes and discrimination, which they know all too well.”

The new museum will be a working space, as the Holocaust Center will continue to fulfill its ongoing mission of building curricula and sending educational materials for schools across the state as well as operating its speakers’ bureau of Holocaust survivors. Simon said the technology infrastructure of the new space will the center to increase its offerings and its reach by teaching via Skype, for example, and having the nearly 200 local survivor testimonies more easily accessible. Among those testimonies is that of the man whose name will be on the museum, Henry Friedman, who with a group of fellow survivors founded the Holocaust Center 25 years ago.

Rather than a typical exhibit of the Holocaust based on the historical timeline, the new museum will be able to provide thematic exhibits based on the 5,000 artifacts it currently has, as well as focus on four stages of human rights violations: Identification, exclusion, violence and rebuilding.

“When we look at those stages of those human rights violations through the Holocaust,” Simon said, “we saw that those stages apply to other human rights violations and discrimination not only globally, but locally as well.”

Which means that traveling exhibits from from Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project, which can bring the Japanese internment during World War II into the conversation, as can local Native tribes.

“What we are doing is using the Holocaust as a way of teaching, because there is no greater example, and there is no example that is as well-documented as the Holocaust,” Simon said.

Hahnna Christenson, a 6th-grade history teacher at Cedar Park Christian School in Bothell and the granddaughter of two survivors, looks forward to having additional resources both for herself and her students.

“It’s important to teach about the Holocaust,” she said. “Most of them had never learned about the Holocaust before.”

While growing up, Christenson, who is Jewish, said she knew that her grandparents had survived, and would hear “bits and pieces,” but began to learn much more once she started using the Holocaust Center’s curriculum six years ago.

“For myself it’s been more rewarding,” she said. “I feel more of my story has come teaching my students, which is really a gift.”

Teaching 6th graders is a challenge, Christenson said, because they’re not quite old enough to wrap their heads around the magnitude of such an atrocity, but she also doesn’t want to minimize it. Teaching in a Christian school actually makes it easier, she said, because “we can talk about evil.”

The museum and the center’s new name, the Holocaust Center for Humanity, will be dedicated later this year, with the opening set to take place in January 2015. In addition to ongoing donations from the Jewish community, “we have had a lot of support, both in public funding and in private funding from non-Jewish sources,” Simon said. “We are grateful that the greater community has embraced this.”