If you have never been to the Illinois Holocaust Museum or have not been there recently, plan to go on Tuesday, October 29, from 5:30-8:00 PM. for the grand opening of four new galleries. These galleries are a response to the mistaken notion that the Jew did not resist during the Holocaust. These permanent exhibitions are poignant, experiential and inspirational. The event is free and open to the public though reservations are required.
Docent led tours of the galleries will start at 5:30 and a program featuring Mitch Braff – founder and executive director of the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation – and Rachel L. Einwohner – Professor of Sociology at Purdue University – will start at 6:30. Braff and Einwohner will be discussing resistance in the ghettos and partisan guerilla fighters in the forest.
The Museum partnered with Luci Creative, a full-service museum planning and exhibit design firm, to develop the updates, and Ravenswood Studio as the fabrication partner.
A semi-immersive environment throughout the exhibits helps visitors connect to the content. The ghetto uprising space, comprised of brick walls and archways, evokes an underground bunker occupied by resistance fighters. The Bielski partisan story is told in an immersive forest of architectural trees reaching above the ‘ceiling’ of the gallery, a stark contrast to the enclosed nature of the bunker. “We wanted to create new spaces in the Museum that are as powerful and immersive as the well-known ‘Kristallnacht’ gallery and rail car,” said Susan Abrams, Museum CEO.
Throughout the galleries, the focus centers on individuals’ stories, designed to humanize the Holocaust and create empathy for those murdered and for those who survived. As Kelley H. Szany, Vice President of Education and Exhibitions at Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center states, “Telling the story of Jewish armed resistance allows our visitors to see that, in the face of ‘The Final Solution’, there was the fortitude and will to try and take control of their lives and deaths.”
“From a design standpoint, we wanted to respect the reality that no space can or should truly immerse visitors in the horrors of the period,” related Kevin Snow, Luci’s Executive Creative Director, “while still telling the story in a compelling way.”
“We are proud that the exhibit so beautifully reflects the vision of the project team and donors,” stated AJ Goehle, CEO and Partner at Luci Creative.
Updates to the Museum’s Skokie gallery punctuate the resistance story. The final gallery in the core exhibition centers around the voices and perspectives of Survivors and the actions they took resisting the attempted 1977 neo-Nazi march in Skokie. In this case, Survivors, with the support of their community, took a stand, yielding a different result than when the community chose to look away during the Holocaust. This section was especially moving and powerful to me.
I visited the museum recently and finally had the chance to see the hologram of a holocaust survivor. The way in which he answered questions was almost unbelievable. I have read about it and Chicago Splash Magazine has even written about it, but it was only on this visit that I was able to interact with the hologram of Pinchas Gutter by way of our excellent guide, Mort Stern. Everyone should visit this remarkable survivor exhibit. You will not be disappointed.
The Main Special Exhibition Space currently houses a surprising, dramatic exhibit: MEMORY UNEARTHED: THE LODZ GHETTO PHOTOGRAPHS OF HENRYK ROSS which runs until January 12, 2020. Photos of the Lodz Ghetto were buried in order to preserve them. It is a story well worth viewing.
And don’t forget the Legacy (Gift) Shop. I love looking at the beautiful items for sale and I found the perfect gift for a friend – unusual, practical and well priced.
All Photos: Courtesy of the Illinois Holocaust Museum