Dallas Holocaust Museum Educates Young and Old

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Located just a block from where JFK was gunned down as his motorcade turned the corner by what was then the Texas School Book Depository, the Dallas Holocaust Museum Center for Education and Tolerance transports visitors back in time.

DALLAS — When Philadelphians think of Dallas, two things immediately come to mind: the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dealey Plaza on Nov. 22, 1963, and the hated Cowboys.
Now you can add a third, because the Dallas Holocaust Museum Center for Education and Tolerance leaves quite an impression — even if you already know about the atrocities, have seen the pictures and heard the survivors’ stories for years.
Located just a block from where JFK was gunned down as his motorcade turned the corner by what was then the Texas School Book Depository, the museum transports visitors back in time.
Suddenly it’s 1933, and Hitler is on the rise. As his power grows and his determination to rid Germany, not to mention all of Europe, of anyone not a member of his “master race”— particularly Jews — you see the pieces fall into place for a decade of unspeakable cruelty.
And the way it’s presented in Dallas, one of 19 Holocaust museums/centers in the U.S., is effective. Near the start of the core exhibit are pillars, each representing a year. Behind them are series of pictures.
The height of each pillar represents the percentage of Jews killed that year of the Holocaust. Most are approximately the same height — except for 1942, which towers above the rest. That year, in which Hitler’s “Final Solution” went into action, 82 percent of the 6 million victims were lost.
As for the pictures behind the pillars, they represent various stages of the decade, with an audio track explaining what was going on at the time. It includes testimony from survivors and other accounts of events like Kristallnacht and the liberation of the concentration camps.
It is moving and compelling, especially if you’re not Jewish and don’t know the story.
During a two-hour visit to the museum, at least two or three different groups of school children went through the exhibits. No matter if they were black, white or Hispanic, they seemed just as awestruck as those who grew up constantly hearing about the Holocaust.
When you’re Jewish, you learn about the horrors of the Holocaust nearly as early as you learn your aleph-bets. You realize that some among the 6 million who died may have been your relatives or, at the least, someone who knew family members. It’s chilling to make that realization and to understand the significance.
To realize those lessons, the same warnings are being taught to a generation that doesn’t have the same background, gives some hope for the future.
While others prefer to deny the Holocaust existed or was an elaborate figment of Jewish imagination, presumably these boys and girls will grow up to spread the truth and pass it on.
Proceeding through the exhibit, you come across an actual boxcar in which Jews were transported to the camps.
And then you come to April 19, 1943, a date in which the museum examines three events taking place simultaneously in different parts of the world.
It was the start of the 11-day Bermuda Conference, in which American and British diplomats met to discuss a way to resolve the issue of Jewish refugees in Europe. Despite pressure from Jewish leaders, no significant action was taken, nor was any effort made to free those still in Nazi death camps. With the meetings held in secrecy, politics prevailed.
That same day, three members of the Belgian resistance managed to stop a deportation train headed toward Auschwitz, freeing 231 Jews, although some were later recaptured. You hear about their heroic mission, including accounts from some of the survivors and their families who eventually settled in Dallas, Fort Worth and nearby communities. While the three resistance fighters were eventually caught and executed, their actions saved countless lives when factoring in the generations that followed.
Finally, April 19, 1943 was the start of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in Poland. The SS had planned to begin a three-day deportation of the entire Jewish community living inside the 56,000-person ghetto, only to be met with resistance by 700-plus fighters armed with only rifles and pistols, a stark contrast to the Germans’ arsenal of machine guns, tanks and grenades. Yet the resistance managed to hold on for nearly a month before the Nazis simply overpowered it.
Hearing the vivid details of that one day brings the enormity of the Holocaust to life for both Jewish and non-Jewish visitors.
The final portion of the exhibition — a memorial room where local families have inscribed the names of relatives or family friends lost in the Holocaust on a wall, and where ashes from one of the crematoriums are preserved — is a fitting and powerful tribute.
Also powerful was a special exhibit which just closed: Anne Frank: A History for Today.
In it, a series of panels are divided. The top of each panel displays the events in Euro*pe as they unfolded from the 1920s through the end of the war.
Corresponding to that, the bottom of each panel shows pictures or other documentation of the Frank family. Beginning with a wedding photo of Otto and Edith Frank in 1925, you see photographs of the Franks and their daughters, Margot and Anne, as babies, as school kids and as pre-teens before they entered the attic.
While the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. — in which each visitor is given a card and assumes the identity of the name on that card — will always stand out as special, each of the others is special in its own way.
For example, the lasting memory of Holocaust Museum Houston was its exterior design, which is shaped to resemble a smokestack.
As for Dallas, seeing the rest of the world’s indifference to the plight of the Jews in Europe — such as a newspaper article buried on page 8 of a wartime edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram describing how the Nazis hope to exterminate the entire Jewish population — will forever resonate.
See for yourself if you ever get to Big “D”
Contact: jmarks@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0729

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