Musings of a Museum Fanatic: Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center

9.24.2018

Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center

***This post contains Nazi symbols and other potentially uncomfortable images***

Tucked between a huge swath of forest preserves and the Edens Expressway you'll find a very odd looking building. From what you can see from Golf Road it's a very dark gray and industrial looking. It doesn't look very inviting at all. Don't let it's exterior fool you though, in this building you'll find a museum dedicated to very important world and Chicago area history, the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center. Museums doing what the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center is doing are so important today. I can't say it any better than they did in their founding principal "Remember the Past, Transform the Future" You might think that walking in to a museum like this you're just going to remember but oh no you will be transformed, empowered and in the end inspired. Which in today's world these are three very important feelings to have and go out into the world with.  




Even before you step into the building there is symbolism and that continues through every exhibit and really every inch of the museum. I can't even begin to tell you what the meaning is behind the building there is just so much wonderful symbolism. The website does an amazing job of explaining that meaning. Needless to say you can definitely feel what the architect wants you to feel as you're walking through. 




When you actually enter into the exhibit itself you start your journey through before the war started. How the Nazis started their rise in power. Then you're led into how they started to turn against the Jews. You see all of the different propaganda and without even realizing it the physical space of the exhibit itself is telling you the story as well. You find yourself walking down slopes and moving through somewhat uncomfortable spaces. This theme of using the entire space to make you feel and react in certain manners is continued throughout the exhibit. 






One of the things I like most about the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center is that they don't want the Holocaust to be this massive tragedy. Don't get me wrong it definitely was a massive tragedy but they want it to be people and their stories. In every room and corner of this exhibit you're confronted by people. It makes it real and makes you get to know these people.








Through my tour with the marketing department they wanted to point out the artifact below. This was a musical instrument case that was re-purposed as a map of the ghetto. This map was extremely important as the Nazi's cracked down more and more on the Jews.



As I look back on the photos I am actually realizing more of the feelings that I had while walking through the exhibit. I didn't notice while I was in the exhibit but the walls are really set up to feel and look in places like I would imagine prison walls, the ghetto walls or the walls at the concentration camps to feel. That really enhanced the closed in and trapped feeling in parts of the exhibit.




Even with all of the photographs and images the exhibit evokes nothing can compare to the feeling of walking into the boxcar. There are no lights or panels in the car itself. You walk into this inky black void. Without anyone else in the car it feels oppressive and then imagine that there are people taking up every inch. None of you are allowed out, there might have been a bucket for relief, and barely any food. I shudder now to think of how awful it must have been.




After you see the boxcar everything starts to get lighter. By no means is the terror over but walking through the exhibit you get the feeling that salvation is coming. Even though the walls are still well taller than any person you don't feel that they are closing in. 




The stories continue as you are walked through what happened to people after the Holocaust and the war was over. These are people who lived and still live in the Chicago area. The stories told are of their lives since then. Many of these people are the reason the museum is here in the first place and are still very active in both the museum and the community.




Speaking of people being involved in the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center. The museum has one of the most interesting founding that I think I've ever heard. From what I've read and seen in various museums after the Holocaust many survivors did not talk about what happened much if at all. In the late 1970s time for silence was over. A group of neo-Nazis sent out fliers that they were going to march in Skokie, which was for a long time supposedly one of the largest areas of survivors outside of Israel. ABC News wrote a great article this summer talking about the would be march and it's legacy. This prompted the survivors and others to stand up to the neo-Nazis (who in the end didn't march) and they realized that people needed to remember what happened. So they started the museum. 




One thing I love about this museum is that it is more than just a museum or as some people would say a monument to the past. They do an amazing job of talking about issues that are happening today in their other exhibits. Part of these current areas is the Holographic Theater. As we get further away from the events themselves it's extremely important for people's stories to live on. They have done this through this insanely amazing project. 

To put it in really simple terms, you can actually ask survivors questions and the recorded hologram. There is so much to this amazing experience. I have actually had the opportunity through various professional meetings the past several years to see this experience in various states of production, from beta when it was just a video on a screen. Each time different questions were asked and even though I actually saw the same person it was like I was getting to know her even more each time. It really is amazing. 




While it is never ever going to be easy to walk through exhibits or museums about the Holocaust and World War II it is so important and vital that we do not forget that history. It's so important that we learn from that history, that we continue learning and changing what's happening now. The Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center is definitely one of those awe inspiring and maybe even life changing museums. 


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