A primer on beginning and ending that first visit
By Harriet P. Gross
This new facility is a marvel — and a challenge. Do not attempt to absorb it all in one visit. Plan to come back, again and again.
But for your first time:
1. Attend the brief introductory session on the first floor. Then proceed to the one exhibit that did not originate here, “Stories of Survival.” Subtitled “Object — Image — Memory,” this is a wall-mounted photographic array of plain “things,” items that survivors of the Holocaust and other human genocides across the globe managed to hold on to throughout their wanderings and sufferings. There is immense power in the simplest of things: a well-loved teddy bear — a letter — a photo — a book. When you learn from what horror it has been saved, you understand why it is treasured now — and will be, forever.
“Stories of Survival” is the first of what will be many special, on-loan exhibits in our new museum’s future. It is on loan from the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, a suburb north of Chicago. One would expect to find this place in the heart of the big city, but it was located here as an act of remembrance, and defiance. In the 1970s, when some 7,000 Holocaust survivors lived in that town, a group of neo-Nazis planned to march there. This threat galvanized many who had not spoken out before of their horrific past experiences, and they said a collective “Never Again!” The planned march became a free-speech issue that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court before the would-be marchers finally gave up. So, in the end, there was no march, but the strong voices that emerged from that cruel threat have resonated ever since. In mounting this photographic exhibit, the Illinois Museum gave early recognition to survivors of other modern genocides in addition to the Holocaust. As such, it is a fitting introduction to our new Museum’s expanded mission: furthering all human rights, with the importance of the Holocaust always at its core.
2. Make a few quiet moments in the Memorial Room as the last stop of your visit. This, now on view again for the first time in many years, was the heart of Dallas’ first Holocaust museum, which was located in the basement of the Jewish Community Center. Its founders were survivors, who remembered the many they had personally lost, and all the 6 million, with carved marble pillars and wall inscriptions for those who have no graveyard headstones.
When it became apparent that the sub-ground facility was too small and too inconvenient to truly serve its educational purpose as well as its memorial one, the decision was made to move to larger quarters on Record Street. This location had one core exhibit (“One Day in the Holocaust”) and a succession of traveling ones that attracted so many more visitors, and served to turn so many young people into “Upstanders.” But it also was too small, and so inspired the campaign that has resulted in this new, permanent facility.
The survivors were afraid that their beloved Memorial Room would be lost after the first move, but today we can all see it exactly as it was: Everything has been brought out of storage and completely replicated in this new location. It is now a relocated room of testimony that will honor all the museum’s original founders, as well as their lost loved ones, in perpetuity. The peace of that quiet, white marble place makes it the perfect spot for a few moments of personal reflection at the end of your museum visit.
But always remember this: Our new Holocaust and Human Rights Museum is truly overwhelming; it offers far too much to be fully absorbed in any single visit. Plan to come again — often. For here, the old has become new, real, accessible and vital to us as people truly dedicated to living lives forever guided by these two most important words: “Never Again!”