At the Zekelman Holocaust Center, we engage, educate, and empower our visitors to remember the Holocaust and apply the lessons learned to our world today. The HC is a 55,000 square foot museum and library archive in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Our vision is to build a world in which people take responsible action. We teach more than 100,000 people each year about the murder of millions and why each of us must respect and stand up for the rights of others if we are to prevent future discrimination, hate crimes, and genocide.
This resource was developed to enhance your exploration of our permanent exhibit. It provides information on several artifacts and installations, and it includes some questions to spark your curiosity.
Consider taking a close look at some of the items you see on display. When looking at photographs and installations, ask:
- What do I see? What’s going on here?
- What makes me say that?
- How does it make me feel?
- What more can I find?
When looking at artifacts, ask:
- What is this object?
- What might it have been used for?
- What does it teach me about this history?
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Boxcar & The Henrietta and Alvin Weisberg Gallery
This boxcar was used during the Holocaust for multiple purposes: to transport German Army personnel and equipment, but also to deport Jews and other prisoners to ghettos and camps. Inside boxcars like this one, 100 individuals or more were packed inside without food, water, or basic sanitation. Many did not survive the journey, which could last from several days to more than a week.
At this installation, you can hear Henrietta Weisberg’s memory of her family’s horrific journey on a deportation train. The scenery behind the boxcar is a replica of a train station in Hamburg, Germany. Between May 1940 and February 1945, approximately 5,848 Jews and 1,264 Roma and Sinti people were sent on 20 deportations from this station.
How would you describe the boxcar? Are there any characteristics that stand out to you about it? Why?
This timeline visually depicts the 4,000-year history of the Jewish people. Spanning from right to left around this circular room, important dates in Jewish history are noted in the upper portion of the timeline. Below are important events in world history, providing the former with greater context. It is important to remember that Jewish history does not start or end with the Holocaust.
The Human Story: Martin Lowenberg
Martin was born in Germany in 1928. After the Nazis came to power, they burned down Martin’s family home and business warehouse. Growing up, Martin faced discrimination in school and witnessed the tragic events of Kristallnacht. In 1941, he was deported to Latvia. Martin was forced to perform labor in concentration camps before being sent on a death march. Martin was 17 years old when he was liberated along with his sister. He immigrated to the United States and eventually came to Detroit. He created some of the metal artwork in the museum, including the mezuzot in each of the doorways.
The European Jewish Heritage exhibit highlights who some Jews were and how they lived before the Holocaust. Beliefs, art, music, and communal life are represented in this gallery. The photos throughout this gallery allow us to see the great diversity of Jewish life and people. Some Jews lived in shtetls (small rural villages), others in big cities. Some Jews were wealthy, others were poor. Some were religious, others were not. There was (and is) no one way to be Jewish, just as there is no one way to be American.
Inside the glass case is a Torah scroll. Written in Hebrew, it contains the five books of Moses. This particular Torah was written in 1790 and had been used for nearly 150 years before it was buried during the Holocaust. It was only in the late 1980s that the Torah was rescued by Jewish War Veteran and child of Holocaust Survivors, Harry Rapaport.
The pointer shows Leviticus 19:16 which translates to “…do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” What does this mean to you?
David-Horodok Photo Wall
All of the people pictured on this wall were from a small town in Belarus called David-Horodok. As you can see in the photos, they were ordinary people living lives not too different from ours. Couples got married, families sat for portraits, friends got together and had fun. These photos not only capture a glimpse of the full lives lived by the Jewish people in this town, but they remind us of what was lost during the Holocaust. Of the 4,300 Jewish people in David-Horodok, only about 100 survived. Their vibrant community was destroyed.
What can we learn about life before the Holocaust from these photos? Are there any photos that are particularly striking to you? Why?
This gallery also contains panels that cast a red glow. These detail the history of antisemitism, the term used to describe hostile beliefs about or behaviors towards Jews. Though the term was invented by a German antisemitic thinker in 1879, this fear, suspicion, and hatred has existed for millennia. These panels help explain historical antisemitism and provide some examples of antisemitic events, caricatures, accusations, and stereotypes.
When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, antisemitism was already entrenched in European culture. The Nazis built upon these ideas and incorporated them into their ideology, which viewed Jews as racially inferior and unworthy of life.
How do you see the persistence of antisemitism and other prejudices in society today? What can you do to challenge these prejudices?
Upon leaving the bright European Jewish Heritage gallery, you will descend into the darkness in the Rise of Nazism gallery. The Nazi Party emerged in the 1920s and found support among antisemites, anti-Communists, and nationalists, many of whom blamed the Jews for Germany’s defeat in WWI. Humiliation from losing the war, combined with the Great Depression devastating the German economy, led many Germans to become receptive to Nazi ideas. The Nazi Party became popular by promising to bring power and glory to Germany. However, their vision of prosperity excluded Jews and others the Nazis considered racially inferior and thus a danger within the German nation.
Though antisemitism was not always the primary reason for Germans to support the Nazis, it was clearly central to Nazi ideology. This exhibit features a variety of Nazi propaganda used to spread the party’s antisemitic beliefs.
Used for propaganda purposes, the Nuremberg Rally was the annual rally of the Nazi Party from 1923 to 1938. In this carefully staged photograph from the 1928 rally, Adolf Hitler stands among a seemingly endless crowd of people, staring defiantly into the distance. In the background, you see a church building, meant to symbolize religious support for the Nazi Party. Though taken almost five years before he was appointed Chancellor, Hitler was already a prominent political figure in Germany.
Who might have taken this photograph, and why do you think this photograph was taken? What message do you think the photographer is trying to share?
This weekly paper, which translates to “The Attacker,” was published by Julius Streicher, a prominent member of the Nazi Party. It was intended for the working man who had little time to read. Der Stürmer reached hundreds of thousands of German readers and was publicly displayed. It was filled with virulent antisemitic articles and political cartoons. Every issue had a banner across the bottom that read: “Die Juden sind unser Unglück!” which translates to: “The Jews are our misfortune!”
What do you notice first when you look at this newspaper? What is the overall message that you think the editors wanted to share in this newspaper?
Trust No Fox
The Nazis established a government ministry to spead propaganda through all sorts of media, including books. Published in 1936, this children’s book showed antisemitic messages to young readers. On the page pictured above, readers are assured that, “It’s going to be fine in the schools at last, for all the Jews must leave.” In the exhibit, the book is open to a page showing stereotypical caricatures of the Nazis’ ideal German man and a Jewish man. Approximately 100,000 copies were printed, and the book was used in schools.
What antisemitic stereotypes do these illustrations reinforce? What impact do you think this book – and other pieces of propaganda – had on people’s beliefs and opinions?
“Wherever books are burned, so, in the end, are people burned.” – Heinrich Heine, German Jewish writer
On May 10, 1933, Nazi-aligned university students organized the burning of more than 25,000 books that were considered to be “un-German.” Many of the books that were burned were written by Jewish authors, though some were burned because of their content or ideas. For example, Hellen Keller’s books were burned because she advocated for social justice and pacifism. In so doing, the Nazis asserted their power to censor and control German thought.
Why burn books? What would it accomplish? What message might this have sent to the German people?
Under Nazi rule, Jewish people faced increasingly intense persecution. Germany passed a series of acts known as the Nuremberg Laws which severely restricted the rights of Jewish people. Jews were expelled from the civil service, sent to Jewish-only schools, and lost their German citizenship.
On November 9-10, 1938, the Nazis organized a night of violence against Jewish people, destroying thousands of homes, businesses, and synagogues. The attacks were followed by mass arrests of German Jewish men. This state-sponsored violence became known as Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, and was a significant turning point toward normalizing violence against Jews. As a result of persecution, many Jews attempted to flee Nazi territory. However, it was often expensive and difficult to leave. Most were ultimately not able to escape.
The Human Story: Ruth Korn
Ruth Korn and her husband escaped Nazi-occupied Denmark with their newborn twin daughters. They were sponsored by a wealthy relative in Michigan to come to the United States. They traveled to Japan and across the Pacific before arriving in Seattle, carrying their babies with them in a basket. In 1942, their trip cost $1,688, which is about $27,000 today. The Korn family traveled thousands of miles to reach safety.
After invading Poland and beginning World War II in 1939, the Nazis began forcing Jews into ghettos. These designated districts physically separated Jewish people from the rest of the city or town’s non-Jewish population. The Nazis considered the ghettos to be a temporary solution to the “Jewish Question,” by removing Jews from the rest of society.
The Nazis established over a thousand ghettos in areas under their control, where the living conditions were purposefully not conducive to survival. Indeed, many Jews were murdered by deliberate malnutrition and unsanitary conditions in the ghettos. Eventually, nearly every person was deported from the ghettos to killing centers or other camps.
Warsaw Ghetto Diorama
The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest ghetto; approximately 400,000 Jewish people were confined into an area of just 1.3 square miles. The ghetto was sealed closed by a brick wall approximately 10 feet tall topped with barbed wire. Other residents of Warsaw knew where the ghetto was located and could even see Jewish residents crossing a bridge between two sections of the ghetto. Most Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto were deported to the killing center Treblinka and murdered.
What impact do you think that separating the Jewish population from the rest of the Warsaw residents had on people? What might have been the purpose of dividing people?
Cultural and Spiritual Resistance
It is a common misconception that the Jewish people did not resist the Nazis. However, to resist, one did not need to participate in armed rebellions. Many resisted by fighting to maintain their humanity and dignity in the face of dehumanization. For example, clandestine schools were established for children in the ghettos, musical and theatrical performances were staged, and religious services – which were forbidden in many cases – were held.
Why do you think that this form of resistance against the Nazis is often overlooked? Why do you think these seemingly small acts of resistance are important?
Armed Resistance: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
By April 1943, the Warsaw Ghetto had been reduced to approximately 70,000 people. Many of the ghetto inhabitants knew that deportation and death awaited them. From April 19 to May 16, 1943, Jewish resistance organizations carried out an armed rebellion against the Nazis, using underground bunkers to survive. Though ultimately defeated, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the largest instance of armed resistance during the Holocaust. It inspired efforts in other ghettos and camps.
There was little chance that the Warsaw Ghetto fighters would defeat the Nazis. Why do you think they fought back anyway? What message did the uprising send to those under Nazi rule?
On January 20, 1942, high-ranking Nazi officials met to determine how to implement the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question,” which referred to the systematic and deliberate murder of the Jews. This plan did not come about overnight; rather, it evolved after years of increasing discrimination, segregation, and violence against the Jewish people.
By this time, specialized mobile killing units, or Einsatzgruppen, were already systematically murdering Jews in the Soviet Union, and the construction of death camps as part of Operation Reinhard was underway. Nazi officials estimated that they would kill 11 million Jews in the Reich and beyond. Ultimately, they murdered over 6 million Jews.
Why do you think it is significant that high-ranking officials were involved in planning the genocide against the Jews? How did the broader events of World War II impact the reach and intensity of the Holocaust?
Boxcars like the replica on display were used to transport victims to camps and killing centers. Upon arrival, people were forced to jump down from the trains, and men and women were separated from one another. Guards performed Selektions, where they selected people for immediate death in the gas chambers or to perform forced labor.
The Human Story: Ben Guyer
Ben was born in Poland in 1916. After the Nazis invaded Poland, a ghetto was created in Ben’s hometown, where he lived with some of his family members. In 1942, Ben was deported into the camp system, where he eventually was sent to Auschwitz. He was forced to shovel coal and later work as a tailor. Ben was transferred to several other camps before being liberated from Bergen-Belsen. After the war, he married his wife Annette in a displaced persons camp. They immigrated to Detroit in 1946. Through it all, Ben kept his striped uniform jacket. He tailored it to look more like a suit jacket and wore it after the war.
Why do you think that Ben tailored his uniform and sewed his number back on? What might this tell you about his approach to returning to life after the war?
The Abyss (CONTENT WARNING)
As the war in Europe ended, the Allied troops liberated the camps. What they found was unimaginable. The U.S. Army Signal Corps documented the terrible conditions in the camps by taking photos, producing films, interviewing survivors, and preparing written reports. Their documentation was used as evidence of Nazi crimes. This section of the museum presents actual footage from the camps after they were liberated. Note: The images are very graphic and difficult to watch.
From 1945-1949, prominent Nazi perpetrators were tried by the International Military Tribunal and the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials for crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. At the time, the word “genocide” was still being defined and was not yet written into law.
Almost 200 Nazi criminals were prosecuted in Nuremberg. The defendants generally admitted that they committed the actions they were accused of, but argued that they were not criminally responsible because they were “following orders.” Ultimately, 161 of them were convicted, and 37 were sentenced to death. Other war crimes trials followed in occupied Germany. However, many low-ranking perpetrators were not tried or convicted for their crimes or were given lenient sentences.
Why do you think that the Allies chose to hold trials for Nazi war criminals, rather than simply execute them all? What message did this send? Do you think it is important to pursue justice for genocide and other atrocity crimes? Why?
Displaced Person (DP) Camps
Although Jewish survivors were freed from the torture and dangers of Nazi rule, many were far away from home, did not know where their families were, and had no possessions immediately after the war. Unfortunately, many survivors perished shortly after liberation from the enduring effects of malnutrition and disease in the camps.
Displaced persons camps (or DP camps) were established to provide sanctuary for those who survived and were administered by the Allies and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). While conditions were not ideal, the camps provided safe places to recover and begin to return to life. Many survivors married and started families as they waited – some for years – to immigrate to countries all over the world.
After the Holocaust, genocide became an international crime defined by the intent to destroy an identity group, such as a race, religion, or ethnicity. Scholars have sought to understand the underlying causes and risk factors of genocide to alert policymakers of contemporary genocides. Unfortunately, it is estimated that over 16 million people have died since the Holocaust as a result of genocide and identity-based violence.
Who is responsible for preventing genocide and identity-based violence today? What can you do to help prevent violence in your community?
Portraits of Honor
Portraits of Honor is an interactive exhibit where you can explore the photographs and stories of local Michigan Holocaust Survivors and learn about their lives during and after the Holocaust. Portraits of Honor was created by Dr. Charles Silow, son of Holocaust Survivors, through the Jewish Senior Life of Metropolitan Detroit.
In their interviews, many survivors were asked what message they would like to leave for future generations. For example, Paula Marks-Bolton said: “It should never make any difference what nationality, what religion, what color of skin a person is, we must love each other. We must speak up whenever there is injustice. Together, we will make a better world.”
Hall of the Righteous
During the Holocaust, a relatively small number of non-Jewish people saw past the hatred of the Jews and acted with courage and compassion to help those in need. They helped in many ways, such as hiding people in their homes or helping them escape across borders. Today, they are honored with the title of the Righteous Among the Nations from Yad Vashem in Israel.
These upstanders risked their lives – and the lives of their families – to rescue Jews. Featured in this gallery are the stories of a few of those who have been recognized with this honor, including Miep Gies who assisted Anne Frank. In addition, many Jews organized and fought to protect other Jews during the Holocaust and are also remembered as heroes.
There are many stories told here. Which story connects with you? Why do you think some people chose to be upstanders? Why do you think most people remained indifferent or complicit?
The Viola & Garry Kappy Anne Frank Exhibit and Tree
Though Anne Frank and the others hiding with her could not go outside, they could see the branches of a chestnut tree in the courtyard outside of their Secret Annex in Amsterdam. On February 23, 1944, Anne 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 G-d, then I was happy, really happy.”
In the Jewish tradition, it is a sign of respect not to spell out the name of the divine in Hebrew. In keeping with this tradition, we have not spelled out the divine name in English, but use “G-d.” A windstorm felled the tree, but eleven saplings were saved for replanting at worthy institutions all over the world, including The HC. It is our honor and pleasure to share it with you today.
How does looking at Anne’s tree make you feel?
This eternal flame burns in memory of the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. The number 6,000,000 staggers the mind. We translate that total number into individual stories and remember each as the person they were.
On the black marble wall, you will notice names of some of the ghettos, camps, and killing sites where many local Holocaust Survivors lost their relatives. In addition, you will notice the approximate number of Jewish people from various countries who were murdered. Remembering and honoring those who were lost is our collective obligation. Thank you for remembering today.
If you look into the wall, you will notice your reflection. What do you think of when you see your reflection? How does a perpetually burning flame honor those lost to the Holocaust?