Thursday, December 24, 2015

Learning About Never Again in Skokie, Illinois

Never Again! Not to Jews, not to people in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Africans or anyone else.  But can it be happening again? With the current rise in anti- Muslim hatred and Trump's extremist proposals, there’s a palpable fear in the air that it could.

With that in mind, we visited the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie, Illinois ( Skokie, an adjacent suburb of Chicago, was once the home to the largest concentration of Holocaust survivors in the United States. Out of a population of 70,000, 7,000 were Holocaust survivors and their families. The survivors, knowing that they were blessed beyond measure to still be alive, felt that their mission was to educate future generations about what happened. The current museum opened in 2009. 

We’d been to the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and to Terezin, the transit camp just outside of Prague. Both of these sites have extremely powerful messages. Somehow, however, the Skokie Holocaust Museum exhibit was much more personal. It was personal to see pictures and videos of interviews of people my husband had known growing up. Some of them had never spoken about their experiences to him. Many had never talked about the Holocaust at all. After Neo-Nazis marched in Skokie in 1978, the Survivor community realized that they had to share their experiences before they passed away so that people coming after them would know what happened.

As we entered the Museum, we had to pass through a metal detector and were told that photographs were forbidden. Thus, I have no pictures of the exhibit to share with you. The permanent exhibit does a great job of showing the rise of Nazism, the way Jews throughout Europe slowly lost everything, how they were herded into ghettoes, and then the Concentration Camp experience itself. They showed the Jewish uprisings in the ghettoes and what happened to the survivors after the War.

What particularly resonated with me was seeing that as Hitler rose to power, many people- Jews included -dismissed him as a comical man who couldn’t possibly be taken seriously. It felt very much the same as the reaction I’ve had to Donald Trump and his proposals about Moslems. It sent a chill down my spine. Many Jews didn’t realize until it was too late that they needed to leave Europe. By the time they realized it, many couldn’t get out.

There is a part of the exhibit toward the end showing how many people in each of the countries of Europe collaborated with the Nazis either actively or by failing to speak up against them. It was a moment that the world went mad. It could happen again.

At the end of the exhibit, there's a short film with some of the Survivors telling their stories. At the end, they leave us with this caveat:

Now I have told you my story. The rest is up to you.

That says it all. Now it’s up to you to go see this powerful exhibit.  

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