As the memory of the Holocaust begins to fade with the generation of survivors quickly diminishing, learning about it has become evermore important.
Unfortunately, recent surveys in the United States have shown that there is already significant lack of Holocaust knowledge, especially amongst young people – 41% of Millennials believe that substantially fewer than 6 million (2 million or fewer) Jews were killed and 22% haven’t heard or are not sure if they have heard of the Holocaust.
Most frightening, however, is that along with lack of knowledge there seems to be a lack of care. According to a recent survey by the Claims Conference (on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany), 70% of Americans say fewer people seem to care about the Holocaust than they used to and 58% of Americans believe something like the Holocaust could happen again.
Of course, it is precisely this education and subsequent care that can ensure that something like the Holocaust will not happen again.
On Yom HaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day, Israelis stop for a minute’s silence to remember and honor the victims of the Holocaust. But according to Avi Zimmerman, Executive Director of American Friends of Ariel, for those who do not live in an environment where Holocaust education can be taken for granted, even more important than personal reflection is active reflection – doing something to promote education for preserving Holocaust education through personal experiences, stories and artifacts.
Each of these methods is utilized by the Ariel Holocaust and Heroism Memorial Museum – the only Holocaust museum in the Samaria region – related Zimmerman. The Museum, currently seeking an upgrade, hopes to more effectively engage visitors by emphasizing personal stories of victims and survivors.
Visiting the Museum, one might notice its prioritization of personal accounts, Zimmerman said. Even the location of the Museum is tremendously personal, located on the first and last two floors of Irena Wodislavsky and her late husband Yaakov’s (Kuba) six-story, split-level home in Ariel.
Both Irena and Kuba are Holocaust survivors who began inviting visitors into their home after collecting a wide range of artifacts from the Holocaust – items one would not find at Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel – including a commissioned sculpture gallery about the Treblinka extermination camp, photos, stamps, letters, a desecrated and redeemed Torah scroll, Nazi uniform pieces, postcards tracking correspondence to understand people’s stories, and anti-Semitic paraphernalia that pre-date the Second World War.
According to Zimmerman, Irena and Kuba’s mission and lifetime goal was to ensure that the voices of those who perished in the Holocaust will forever resonate, and Irena is now determined to upgrade the Museum to the benefit of generations to come.
Hoping to raise 400,000 NIS ($110,202) for the upgrade, she is working to move the Museum to her other nearby, more accessible home on the same street as the current Museum. The 1.5-floor home with handicap access will be renovated to house the Museum and later, add technologies that will bring personal testimonies to life.
Zimmerman explained to Breaking Israel News, “There are two stages to the fundraising campaign for this project. Phase One is dedicated to funding the design and renovations of the new site, including a temperature-controlled room to maintain artifacts in pristine condition for posterity, as well as creating a patio area and awning so groups can gather at entrance and meet with survivors and guides. Phase Two focuses on integrating a new interactive technology, equipped with artificial intelligence, which will enable visitors to have conversations with a life-size pre-recorded “Irena.””
According to Zimmerman, the renovations would benefit the thousands of visitors per year who visit the museum, including IDF soldiers, students, children and non-Jewish visitors who have never previously met Holocaust survivors.
“Statistics about Holocaust education show that awareness is dwindling,” posed Zimmerman. “And with the global rise in antisemitism and decline in Holocaust education, personal encounters are acutely relevant – it’s time to make Holocaust education personal.”
So far, he said, the method of relating personal stories has made a tremendous impact. “There is never a dry eye when people met with Kuba and when they still meet with Irena – it’s a very powerful experience,” he said. “Our baseline is making sure that this experience is available,” Zimmerman said, “and if it moves people to the extent that this sort of encounter is sufficient, the question is, how many people can we expose to that?”
On Yom HaShoah in particular, American Friends of Ariel and the Ariel Holocaust and Heroism Memorial Museum invite supporters from all around the world to not only reflect, but become active in supporting the Museum’s mission and the legacy of Kuba and Irena.
Written in cooperation with American Friends of Ariel