Survivors’ Testimonies at the Illinois Holocaust Museum

Fri, 05/29/2009 - 12:00am

On April 19, the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center celebrated its grand opening in Skokie, Illinois.  A project of the Holocaust Memorial Foundation of Illinois, the new museum is the largest and most advanced center in the Midwest dedicated to teaching the history and universal lessons of the Holocaust.

“It is a monument to the courage, resilience, and spirit of the survivors, a poignant memorial to those who are lost, and a vibrant and engaging center for learning and advocacy,” said Illinois Holocaust Museum Director Richard Hirschhaut.

Among the museum’s permanent holdings are more than 2,000 testimonies from the Institute’s archive; they are the life stories of Holocaust survivors who settled in Illinois and elsewhere in the American Midwest.  Read more about the collection on the Illinois Holocaust Museum's website.

The museum has integrated testimony into its Zev and Shifra Karkomi Permanent Exhibition, a central feature that presents the narrative of the Holocaust using over 500 artifacts, documents, and photographs.  “The permanent exhibition operates on two parallel tracks,” Hirschhaut explained.  “It chronicles what the Nazis perpetrated against the Jews and others, but at the same time, we wanted to draw attention to Jewish agency and response, to reveal how individuals retained their humanity, their dignity.  We have really endeavored to personalize the presentation of the Holocaust narrative,” he continued.  “Testimony is featured throughout the exhibit, and the result is a much deeper, textured, and ultimately, human story.”

In addition to integrating testimony into the permanent exhibit, the museum has made all of the 2,000 testimonies in its collection searchable and accessible on-site. Visitors can identify and access testimony of interest, or specific segments of testimony, using keywords entered into the Institute’s Visual History Archive search interface.

Thousands of people gathered in Skokie for the museum’s grand opening event.  President Bill Clinton delivered the keynote address, and guests included Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, Professor Elie Wiesel, foreign dignitaries, Holocaust survivors, and many others.  Steven Spielberg delivered a video message, and Interim Executive Director Kim Simon attended on behalf of the Institute.  “The Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center is a very fitting home for the testimonies of Holocaust survivors and other witnesses interviewed throughout the Midwestern states,” Simon said.  “The integration of testimony into this landmark institution is an example of how the life stories in the Institute’s archive are being used in concrete ways to educate people about the Holocaust and encourage them to stand against intolerance.”