The Eternal Flame and Memorial Wall
In Jewish practice, a twenty-four hour candle is lit on the anniversary of the death of a parent or child. For many, there is no known anniversary date for relatives lost in the Holocaust; no grave to visit, and, increasingly, no one to remember. For all these innocent souls, we keep the flame burning.
The Henrietta and Alvin Weisberg Gallery tells the horrors of deportation by rail to the ghettos, death camps and concentration camps of Europe. The Gallery’s centerpiece is a WWII-era boxcar used by the Nazis at the time that Jews and other “undesirables” were transported to implement the Final Solution. The boxcar is set in historically accurate architecture of the Hannoverscher Bahnhof station platform in Hamburg, Germany. A mural and audio-visual elements add to the experience.
It is important to contextualize events within world history. All events are the result of actions that came before and, in turn, influence events that follow. In this timeline, the history of the Jewish people is juxtaposed with milestones in world history.
Museum of European Jewish Heritage
The Museum of European Jewish Heritage uses kiosks, murals, and religious artifacts to tell the story of European Jewish culture and antisemitism from the second century CE through contemporary times. Eastern European shtetl life is prominently featured.
Descent into Nazism
As you move toward the portrait of Adolf Hitler, you descend into darkness. You learn of persecution, resistance, fear and unparalleled courage, families uprooted, separated, confined and murdered, the unspeakable atrocities of the perpetrators and the silence of the bystanders.
The Camp System
Beginning in 1933, thousands of camps sprang up. We hear primarily about Treblinka, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Dachau, Chelmno, Sobibor, Belzec and Majdanek, the killing centers established in Poland by the occupying Nazi forces. Ultimately there were thousands of other camps, including transit camps, slave labor camps which provided workers for German factories, and Prisoner of War camps.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower required civilian news media and military combat camera units to record their observations. He explained, “I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to ‘propaganda.’”
The Postwar Period
Following Hitler’s defeat, war crimes trials were held at Dachau and Nuremberg. While Jews sought surviving family members and traces of their former lives, the Allies set up Displaced Persons’ camps to house refugees. Individuals came to grips with the reality that they had no place to go and, often, no surviving family. Others came to strange new lands with little more than the clothes on their backs.
More Core Exhibits at the HMC
Portraits of Honor: Our Michigan Holocaust Survivors is an interactive Holocaust educational exhibit of the Program for Holocaust Survivors and Families, a service of Jewish Senior Life of Metropolitan Detroit.
Portraits of Honor was developed in 1999 under the direction of Dr. Charles Silow, the son of Holocaust Survivors. Its purpose is to document the lives of our Michigan Holocaust Survivors for education and for posterity. Portraits of Honor is a learning tool about the lives of our Survivors through their photographs, biographies, and historical references.
As you look into the portraits of the survivors, you will see faces of pain and suffering as well as beauty, resilience, and the triumph of the human spirit.
When the national armies of European countries were defeated in World War II, the Jewish populations within these countries were in a helpless and powerless situation. They were, by and large, civilians with little military training. They had no access to weapons and their national armies had been overrun by Nazi Germany.
As we read the Survivors’ biographies and learn about the overwhelming circumstances and horrors that they went through, we gain a greater appreciation and respect for their strength and for their resilience.
Portraits of Honor cherishes and honors each and every Michigan survivor. For so long, Holocaust survivors have not been appreciated for what they endured and for what they have gone on to accomplish in their lives after the war.
After the Holocaust, survivors came to America, many to Michigan. They learned a new language, a new culture, and began new lives. They worked hard and raised families. The memories of the overwhelming losses and horrors they experienced have continued to haunt them, yet they have been able to go on with life. Their children, grandchildren, and even great- grandchildren are here and contribute to society. In spite of the Nazi attempted genocide, the Jewish people have continued. To quote from the “Song of the Partisans” that the survivors sing, “Mir zeinen du!” “We are here!”
In 2009, the Holocaust Memorial Center was honored to have been selected as one of only eleven sites in the United States to receive a sapling from the tree that grew outside Anne Frank’s hiding place. During her nearly two years in hiding, her exposure to the outside world was limited to what she could see outside her window. In 1944, she wrote:
“From my favorite spot on the floor, I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver,”
“When I looked outside right into the depth of nature and God, then I was happy, really happy.”
Watching the chestnut tree cycle through the seasons offered Anne hope that one day humanity would also have another chance.
Anne Frank’s tree has reached the end of its 150-year lifespan, but it will live on through saplings planted around the world, including the one at the HMC. The HMC’s sapling has grown in a specially designed and secure garden on the campus. Visitors will see and experience the sapling from inside the museum as part of an exhibit about Anne Frank.
This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
The Harry and Wanda Zekelman International Institute of the Righteous provides an exploration of those who take responsibility by acting in a moral and ethical manner including those who risked their lives to help save strangers during the Holocaust.
As the German government intensified the anti-Jewish legislation that threatened the lives of Jews living in Nazi-occupied Europe, efforts to rescue them were initiated throughout the Western world. Only Great Britain responded, following Kristallnacht, by changing its immigration laws to allow children up to the age of 17 to enter the country. This change led to the Kindertransport, the mass evacuation of nearly 10,000 children in the nine months before the outbreak of war in Europe. It was made possible through the selfless efforts of many individuals, and the commitment of Jewish and non-Jewish organizations working on behalf of the families and children.
From December 1938 to September 1939, desperate Jewish parents in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia said goodbye as they watched their children board sealed railroad cars for the first leg of their journey out of harm’s way. The second leg was on a ship that would take them to England. Once there, the children were placed with foster parents; in group homes, orphanages or hostels; on working farms and in domestic service. As they came of age, many fought as soldiers. After the war, they took their places as productive citizens in many different countries. Most of the children never saw their parents again.
In 1988, Anita Grosz, the daughter of Kindertransport survivor Hanus Grosz, conceived of the idea of preserving the memories of the Kindertransport experience through the art of quilting. The “Kinder”, now adults, created the squares that grew into the quilts in this exhibit. Sharing their experiences in this form opened an avenue for releasing what often were long-repressed memories too difficult to verbalize. The quilts also serve as a vital link in the recorded history of the Holocaust.
The exhibit is made possible through the financial support of the community and the Kindertransport Association. The audio presentation represents the individual Kindertransport memories that accompanied each quilt square. Some of the voices you hear are those of the actual “Kinder” who created these quilts.
The Kindertransport Memory Quilts have been loaned on a permanent basis to the Holocaust Memorial Center Zekelman Family Campus, by Kirsten Grosz and her family, in memory of Hanus Grosz, the Kinder and their brave parents.
About the Kindertransport Association
The first Kindertransport arrived at Harwich, England on December 2, 1938, bringing 196 children from a Berlin Jewish orphanage burned by the Nazis during the night of November 9. Most of the transports left by train from Vienna, Berlin, Prague and other major cities (children from small towns traveled to meet the transports), crossed the Dutch and Belgian borders, and went on by ship to England. Hundreds of children remained in Belgium and Holland. The transports ended with the outbreak of war in September 1939.
One very last transport left on the freighter Bodegraven from Ymuiden on May 14, 1940 – the day Rotterdam was bombed, one day before Holland surrendered – raked by gunfire from German warplanes. The eighty children on deck had been brought by earlier transports to imagined safety in Holland. Altogether, though exact figures are unknown, the Kindertransport saved around 10,000 children, most of them Jewish, from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland. None were accompanied by their parents; a few were babies carried by children.
The Archives of the Kindertransport Association include the Kindertransport Quilts originally conceived and executed by Kirsten Grosz and her late husband, Hanus, papers, documents and other ephemera associated with the bi-annual meeting and the business files of the KTA, materials related to the making of the film My Knees Were Jumping, and articles, books, research materials, and other ephemera related to the history of the Kindertransport and the association.
To take a full, self-guided virtual tour of the Holocaust Memorial Center, please click here.