Ribbon-cutting reinforces tenet: Being an Upstander is everyone’s duty
By Sharon Wisch-Ray
Dallas-Fort Worth area Holocaust survivors, patrons, volunteers and invited guests celebrated the ribbon-cutting of the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum Sept. 17. The museum opened to the public Sept. 18.
Mary Pat Higgins, president and CEO of the DHHRM, welcomed those in attendance and set the tone for the speakers who followed.
“In 1977, a small group of Holocaust survivors came together with an extraordinary vision to teach the North Texas Community the lessons learned from the Holocaust and to memorialize the 6 million Jews and millions of others persecuted by the Nazis.
“These amazing survivors saw as their legacy the creation of a museum for future generations of students and adults. Their mission — and ours — is to teach the history of the Holocaust and advance human rights to combat prejudice, hatred and indifference.”
Speaker after speaker stressed that as human beings all individuals need to take personal responsibility to advance human rights and to combat prejudice and hatred.
“We need to do everything we can to prevent genocide from happening — and that starts with making the choice that we can no longer allow it to happen simply by not believing it can happen…
“It can happen, it does happen, and that’s why we have to keep telling the story,” said Frank Risch, DHHRM board chair and co-chair of its capital campaign.
Governor Greg Abbott added that in addition to doing the typical things museums do — educating visitors and displaying artifacts — the museum was one that left them wanting to make a difference.
“This museum also inspires, it empowers. At a time in our world where there is transformational change, this is a transformative museum.”
Abbott added, “Visitors will leave inspired to take action to ensure that atrocities like what they’ve seen in here will be eradicated from this earth.”
Abbott also said as governor of Texas the state of Texas was proud of the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum and owed a debt of gratitude to those who made it possible and one of the “premier Holocaust and human rights museums in the world.”
When The Honorable Florence Shapiro, immediate past board chair and daughter of Holocaust survivors, took the podium, she illustrated the importance of the new museum with a timely anecdote, sharing her reaction to the shooting in El Paso Aug. 3 when 22 innocent people were murdered. She explained that the DHHRM is precisely the antidote that’s needed to combat senseless hatred.
“This museum teaches the history of the Holocaust and other genocides to show students what happens when hatred and bigotry can lead to violence — and permeate our society,” she said.
“At the new museum, we will educate students about the histories of persecuted and marginalized groups. By teaching this history, we educate visitors about diversity, tolerance and empathy.”
Shapiro said with her Aug. 3 defining moment she has set a goal to have 100,000 students visit the museum by the end of 2020.
She began the project by raising $250,000 for the Museum Experience Fund, so every student will be able to visit the museum regardless of their ability to pay.
Lydia Nimbeshaho, a survivor of Rwandan genocide, shared the impact the two upstanders made on her life. The courage of action of Dama Gisimba, who took her and her siblings into his orphanage at great personal risk. A second upstander was American missionary who blocked the doorway of the orphanage when “perpetrators/Interahamwe” came to kill those inside.
“I can never thank Mr. Wilkens enough for saving us. Because of him, I lived. He is the reason I am able to be here with you today.”
Mayor Eric Johnson said that he hopes that the new museum will draw people in and teach them tolerance and to be action-oriented.
“I want this museum — I am so grateful that (it is) right here in the heart of Dallas — to be a beacon for our entire community, a place for everyone. A place for respect and a place for acceptance.
“This is a place that can educate humanity about the history and nature of hatred. This is a place that can inspire an entire generation of upstanders.
“I believe the lessons taught in this museum will inspire us all — adults and children — alike to stand up for what is right — to fight hatred and intolerance with every ounce of our being so everyone knows that there’s no place for hate of any kind in Dallas or anywhere else in the world. Because fighting hatred is not just one person’s journey. Fighting hatred is humanity’s journey.
As he closed, Mayor Johnson declared Sept. 18, 2019, Upstander Day in the City of Dallas.
He also bestowed the key to the city to all DFW-area Holocaust survivors.
“Each one of you embodies the values of our community: strength, determination, hard work, resilience, hope and most importantly, being Upstanders.”
Nate Levine, who along with his wife Ann made the landmark gift ensuring the new museum’s long-term viability, concluded the speaker portion of the program. He shared some anecdotes from some of his tours with children, many of whom didn’t know what the Holocaust was when they arrived.
“At the conclusion of the tour I could see in their faces that the kids leaving were not the same kids that arrived just an hour ago.”
Another group of 15 students was so inspired by Anne Frank’s story they wrote their own diaries and presented them to Levine.
Levine concluded, “Let us all hope and pray that the next century will be more respectful of human beings and the rights of people to live in peace — irrespective of their color, their religion or their race.”
The program concluded with Temple Emanu-El Rabbi David Stern leading the Mourner’s Kaddish.
Then, the Town View choir sang Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” as students from Cristo Rey College Preparatory School led Holocaust survivors in attendance to the stage for the ribbon-cutting.
Surrounded by the survivors, Ann and Nate Levine cut the stage-long red ribbon.