The Illinois Holocaust Museum opened to the public on Sunday, April 19, 2009. I had the good fortune to make it to the media preview a few days prior. Many of the artifacts were not yet on display, indeed, the paint on the walls was still wet in many of the sections I saw on my tour, but I still got a good feel for the place.The museum is not only dedicated to sharing the stories of the Holocaust, but also to educating the public about the importance of speaking up against hatred and genocide.
These themes are echoed in the museum’s design. Visitors enter through the dark and may sit for a brief, but graphic opening film about the Holocaust. Entering the permanent exhibit one finds dark, sharply angled walls which follow the rise of Hitler and the increasing mistreatment of Jews (as well as other minorities, including, as I learned on my visit, Polish Catholics).Walking through the museum, visitors make their way to the light part of the building. First they pass over the “cleave” that joins the two halves in the stunning Hall of Remembrance. As photographed below, looking up onto the curved walls, one see representative names of some of the six million Jews who perished in the death camps. Looking down into the cleave, one sees an authentic German rail car, the type used for deportation as part of Hitler’s Master Plan.
This is obviously heavy stuff, so I think it’s absolutely brilliant that architect Stanley Tigerman and the interior design team included a light, open meditation area, or Hall of Reflection.
The last stop on a visit is a final film, that takes the lessons of the Holocaust and challenges visitors to think about more recent genocides, like in Rwanda or Darfur and to stand against intolerance.Now for the kids’ section. As you might guess, this is not a museum for little ones, but they do have a special exhibit for children ages 8 and up, The Miller Family Youth Exhibition. There is no direct mention of the Holocaust in this space, rather the focus here is on helping children understand who they are and exploring the choices they make.The Youth area features several interactive exhibits as pictured below, as well as one high-tech full-bodied motion tracking simulation that I struggle to explain. Perhaps after taking my own boys there for a visit, I’ll be back with a proper explanation.
If you are in the Chicago area and have access to transportation, this museum is definitely worth a visit for families with older children.Kim also blogs at Hormone-colored Days.