Holocaust Memorial Center receives $15M gift, largest single donation in its history
Maureen Feighan – The Detroit News
Published 12:21 p.m. ET Dec. 7, 2021 Updated 2:27 p.m. ET Dec. 7, 2021
A $15 million gift to the Holocaust Memorial Center, the largest single charitable donation in its history, will go toward an endowment to support the Farmington Hills center for years to come and give it more flexibility.
The gift from the Zekelman family and Zekelman Industries — Chicago-based Zekelman Industries is North America’s largest independent steel pipe and tube manufacturer — will go to the Holocaust Memorial Center’s $100 million Comprehensive Campaign. The five-year campaign will create a board-designated endowment. It will also finance plans to update the center’s core exhibits.
“We are very excited and very grateful to the Zekelman family. This is really something special,” said Rabbi Eli Mayerfeld, CEO of the Holocaust Memorial Center. The 55,000-square-foot Holocaust Memorial Center, situated on the Holocaust Memorial Center Zekelman Family Campus on Orchard Lake Road, is the the only Holocaust museum in Michigan and the first free-standing institution of its kind in the United States. It serves about 100,000 visitors a year, both in person and through online programming.
Mayerfeld said the Zekelmans have been very thoughtful with how they want their $15 million gift used. After all the challenges that arts and cultural institutions have faced since COVID hit in March 2020, a board-restricted endowment means those funds can be accessed if necessary, unlike a regular endowment, in which the principal can’t be touched.
“Having the ability of the board, under circumstances like that (the pandemic), to being able to make changes, makes a tremendous difference in the future of an organization,” said Mayerfeld. “On the one hand, they’re saying, ‘We want these dollars to be available for the future, far into the future.’ At the same, they’re saying we want flexiblity for the board to be able to recognize that if something happens that demands immediate action, those funds can be used for that as well. So it really is a tremendous gift with a lot of creativity and foresight.”
Tuesday’s gift isn’t the first time the Zekelman family and Zekelman Industries have supported the Holocaust Center. A $10 million gift in late 2006 went toward reducing the center’s debts after it built its new campus in Farmington Hills.
The Zekelmans have deep, personal ties to the Holocaust.
“My late father’s parents and siblings were all unfortunately killed during the Holocaust so it’s very, very significant to us to be able to do something that not only memorializes their lives but all the others — the 6 million Jews,” said Alan Zekelman, a Bloomfield Hills resident who is the treasurer of the Memorial Center’s board, whose father survived because he was in the Polish army.
The Zekelmans’ gift comes just days after the Holocaust Memorial Center, which has a $4 million annual budget, received another boost from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation. Under a new $100 million arts and culture initiative unveiled last week, the Holocaust center is one of 11 Metro Detroit arts and cultural institutions in Metro Detroit that will receive annual support for operating expenses.
Zekelman said he hopes his family’s gift inspires others to give. He said the center has grown in its mission and accomplishments but there’s more work to be done.
“It’s really time now to refresh the exhibits, expand the outreach to teachers across the state of Michigan and students across the state,” he said. “And they can only do that with more money. We’re hoping for people to join us.”
He saw it as a death sentence.
But being drafted into the Polish army ultimately saved Harry Zekelman and because he endured, so has the Holocaust Memorial Center Zekelman Family Campus, which received a $15 million donation from Harry’s family and the business he started after World War II.
“We are truly humbled by and grateful for the continued generosity of the Zekelman family and Zekelman Industries. This $15 million donation is significant on its own. It is even more extraordinary as it increases their overall support of the Holocaust Memorial Center to $25 million,” Rabbi Eli Mayerfeld, CEO for the Holocaust Memorial Center in a news release. “This major donation will enable us to expand the important work we do to teach the lessons of the Holocaust and confront antisemitism and hatred.”
It is hatred that destroyed Zekelman’s family, who lived in a small village in Poland.
During the war, Zekelman was called to serve in the Polish military, which became part of the Russian army, but after going absent without leave (AWOL) he was sent to a Displaced Person’s Camp in Italy. Had he been home, he too might have been murdered by the Einsatzgruppen’s mobile killing squads, who killed his parents and siblings. Many of his aunts, uncles and cousins were also killed during the Holocaust.
After the war, Zekelman emigrated to Canada, securing a place to stay and work through a cousin who lived in Windsor, Ontario. Once familiar with the manufacturing industry, Zekelman purchased his own equipment and started Atlas Tube. Zekelman Industries, as the company is now known is operated by the family including Zekelman’s sons, Alan, Barry and Clayton Zekelman.
Their support of the Holocaust Memorial Center, which has served to also honor their father, began when the center was struggling to reach its fundraising goals. It was then that the family stepped up to help by offering the center a $10 million donation.
“The existence of the Holocaust Memorial Center is only possible because of that gift more than 20 years ago,” Mayerfeld said.
Zekelman’s son, Barry, who serves as chairman and CEO of Zekelman Industries said the family has always been impressed by the positive and lasting impact that the Holocaust Memorial Center has had on millions of lives throughout Michigan and its surrounding states but also in Canada and even overseas (thanks to its online programming).
The Holocaust Memorial Center Zekelman Family Campus will look to add staff, virtual programming and facility upgrades after a sizable gift from a longtime donor.
The center announced last week a donation of $15 million from the Zekelman family and Zekelman Industries.
The donation, that largest single gift in the Farmington Hills museum’s history, kicks off a $100 million fundraising campaign aimed at establishing a permanent endowment fund for the center’s long-term sustainability.
“This is really great,” said CEO Rabbi Eli Mayerfeld. “Because of the great foresight of the Zekelman family, they would like to see this gift used in places that we need it the most. That includes things like paying for additional staffing so we can continue to provide virtual programming. It means being able to do upgrades to ventilation and air filtration to make our building as healthy and safe as we can. It’s really meant to be flexible so that we can continue to grow and serve the community.”
The center, 28123 Orchard Lake Road, is the first free-standing institution of its kind in the United States, and Michigan’s only Holocaust museum. The 55,000-square-foot structure opened in October 1984 and has hosted more than 1 million visitors since, with more than 100,000 crossing its threshold annually, pre-pandemic, to learn about the Holocaust and speak with survivors. During the pandemic, it reached more than 20,000 virtual attendees throughout Michigan, the U.S. and internationally.
The Zekelman family is a longtime supporter of the Holocaust Memorial Center, both individually and through Zekelman Industries, a Canadian steel and pipe company that has a long history of philanthropy. The company maintains a location in Plymouth.
The $15 million donation brings the Zekelmans’ total funding of the Holocaust Memorial Center to $25 million.
“We’ve always been impressed by the positive and lasting impact the Holocaust Memorial Center has had on millions of lives,” said Barry Zekelman, chairman and CEO of Zekelman Industries. “It’s truly inspiring. With antisemitism and hate crimes on the rise, we feel a sense of urgency to help organizations, like the Holocaust Memorial Center, that are passionately working to combat it.“
The museum’s current special exhibit, “The Girl in the Diary: Searching for Rywka from the Lodz Ghetto,” runs through the end of December. Based on a diary discovered in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp after World War II, it presents a unique view into lives disrupted by the Holocaust.
Zekelman family, company make largest gift ever to Holocaust Memorial Center
December 7, 2021
By Sherri Welch
Holocaust Memorial Center- One of the exhibits inside the Holocaust Memorial Center is a WWII-era boxcar used by the Nazis at the time to transport Jews and other “undesirables” to concentration camps.
A $15 million gift to the Holocaust Memorial Center from the family of its board treasurer, Alan Zekelman, and its company, Zekelman Industries, will help ensure the center can continue its efforts to prevent another Holocaust well into the future.
The donation is the single largest ever made to the center and the lead gift in a $100 million comprehensive campaign launched this year. It will support the center’s goal to raise a $65 million board-designated endowment.
The rest of the campaign will fund the center’s operation over the next five years, update its core exhibit to include personal stories from Holocaust survivors and expand virtual education opportunities.
Alan Zekelman, a Bloomfield Hills resident and past board president of the Holocaust Memorial Center, said the institution is significant to his family.
“We have a Holocaust history. My late father’s parents, brothers and sisters were all killed in the Holocaust,” he said. “That’s a big motivator for our involvement.”
Zekelman Industries, based in Chicago, is a steel pipe and tube manufacturer with factories in Plymouth, several other states and Canada. Alan Zekelman serves as its director.
Other members of the family — including CEO Barry Zekelman and Director Clayton Zekelman, who is also president of MNSi Telecom — are longtime supporters of the Holocaust Memorial Center, both individually and through their company.
The most recent donation follows a $10 million commitment made by the family in 2006-07 to help pay down debt tied to the initial construction of the center and led the organization to rename its Farmington Hills site as the Holocaust Memorial Center Zekelman Family Campus.
The center’s purpose is not just to memorialize, Zekelman said. It’s also to educate through school tours and visits from the general public about the most studied genocide in human history.
“By having students exposed to it.. they can become much better at seeing injustice in the world,” Zekelman said.
“Hate is one of the flaws for human beings because we’re prone to it,” but we need to be able to control it, he said. “One way (to do that) is to be aware of what other humans have done.”
The family is also hoping the gift will inspire others to give, he said.
Beyond the board-designated endowment, the campaign will provide $19 million in operating funds for the next five years, Rabbi Eli Mayerfeld, CEO of the center, said.
The campaign will also support an expansion of virtual learning opportunities, special exhibits at the center and traveling exhibits that will go around the state, along with updates to the center’s core exhibit in 2023.
As part of the updates to the core exhibit, the center will incorporate personal stories from Holocaust survivors, Mayerfeld said.
“In addition to facts and figures, we want people to see survivors who are not different from them: parents, friends, neighbors.”
When the museum was designed 20 years ago, there were many Holocaust survivors living in Michigan, he said. “Unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer. We need the exhibit to lift up their voices in a permanent way.”
The Holocaust Memorial Center’s Zekelman Family Campus
The Holocaust Memorial Center has collected nearly 1,000 interviews from local Michigan survivors, very few of whom are still alive, Mayerfeld said.
“We need to make sure that when people come to the museum, they see this as a personal story, not just a historical story of an event that took place somewhere else.”
In a recent survey of Millennial and Gen Z residents in each state conducted by the Claims Conference — a group negotiating for compensation and restitution for victims of Nazi persecution and their heirs — 62 percent of 200 people surveyed in Michigan said they “totally agreed” something like the Holocaust could happen again today.
Holocaust and genocide education, now required in Michigan, are vital in enabling people to make personal connections that define their roles and responsibilities in preventing future atrocities, Mayerfeld said.
“Our mission is to engage, educate and empower — that’s what we’re being asked to do with this gift. We want to empower others so they act,” he said. “They need to call out injustice when they see it… to feel empathy, to act kindly toward those who are not like them.”
December 7, 2021
Zekelman family donates $15M to Holocaust Memorial Center
The latest gift from Barry Zekelman and Zekelman Industries to the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan, is the largest single donation in the center’s history.
By Dalson Chen
Exterior of the Zekelman Family Campus at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan. PHOTO BY MARX LAYNE AND COMPANY /Windsor Star
The Holocaust Memorial Center in Michigan is thanking the Windsor-Essex region’s billionaire Zekelman family for making a major donation to the organization’s efforts.
On Tuesday, the centre announced it has received a $15-million donation from Zekelman Industries — a “transformational gift” that represents the single largest charitable contribution the centre has received in its history.
“We are truly humbled by and grateful for the continued generosity of the Zekelman family and Zekelman Industries,” said Rabbi Eli Mayerfeld, the centre’s chief executive officer.
“This major donation will enable us to expand the important work we do to teach the lessons of the Holocaust and confront antisemitism and hatred.”
The centre was founded a group of Holocaust survivors. After years of planning, the centre’s location was opened in 1984 with the expressed goal of educating and serving as a museum about the European Jewish experience during the Shoah.
In total, the Zekelmans have given $25 million to the organization over the years. The center’s campus is named for the Zekelman family.
Barry Zekelman, chair and CEO of Zekelman Industries, said his family has “always been impressed by the positive and lasting impact the Holocaust Memorial Center has had on millions of lives. It’s truly inspiring.”
“With anti-Semitism and hate crime on the rise, we feel a sense of urgency to help organizations like the Holocaust Memorial Center that are passionately working to combat it.”
The organization plans on using the Zekelman family’s gift for operational funding, facility maintenance, and expansion of programs such as educational offerings, travelling exhibits, and special events.
The center estimates it has had more than a million visitors since its founding. Along with its 55,000-square-foot museum, the facility has core exhibits such as a memorial wall, an eternal flame, a boxcar used by Nazi Germany during the Second World War, a tree dedicated to Anne Frank, and more.
The Holocaust Memorial Center is the only facility of its kind in Michigan.
Barry Zekelman said Zekelman Industries strives not only to be a leader in industry, but in philanthropic activities involving employees and business peers.
Zekelman Industries can trace its roots to Atlas Tube — a structural steel tubing company founded by Harry Zekelman in Harrow in 1984.
Now headquartered in Chicago, Zekelman Industries is the largest independent steel pipe and tube manufacturer in North America, and is also an innovator in modular construction.