The Holocaust & Humanity Center Museum
Many Holocaust museums are centered on the victims killed during this horrendous period in history, but the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Cincinnati’s Union Terminal has a slightly different approach: it focuses on a few individuals who emigrated to Cincinnati after the Holocaust.
It is not by accident that the Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust And Humanity Center’s banner announcing its 2018 opening was strategically placed next to the art deco sign “To Trains” that is original to the Union Terminal Station. The trains are emblematic of the horror so many Jews faced as they were forced onto trains across Europe. But they are also emblematic of the trains that transported them to their new lives in Cincinnati as that’s how the majority of them arrived to the Queen City of the West once they arrived in the U.S.
In fact, there is one display that shows what many of these immigrants would have seen through the windows as they arrived at the train station: more trains and tracks — carrying passengers, not prisoners.
Inside the museum, visitors can follow the stories of several Holocaust survivors who made their way to Cincinnati. By clicking on different buttons, they can hear oral histories in the survivors’ own words — something that is becoming increasingly rare as we lose more and more survivors each year.
The team of dedicated volunteer tour guides know the stories of these survivors well. Many went on to become prestigious members of the community and their family names are widely recognized. My guide, Len, shared the story of his own parents, whose stories of survival were as unique as every other. His mother was sent to Siberia and survived the labor camps there as well as the extreme weather conditions. Once she made her way to Cincinnati, she rarely spoke of the events she endured during the War, though she has begun to write them down now.
The Museum offers a Speakers Series on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons in which Holocaust survivors and their descendants tell stories of life before, during, and after the Holocaust. I have attended a few of these at area temples in the past, but am happy to have such a regular schedule of these incredible talks.
School groups can participate in something called Suitcase Stories, which is an incredible opportunity for students to “unpack” the suitcase of one of these survivors featured in the museum through their videos, photos and artifacts.
Edith Carter, a young adult girl in Czechoslovakia deported to Terezin then to Auschwitz.
Werner Coppel, a German male teenager deported to Auschwitz with his Jewish youth group and escapes during a death march.
Henry Fenichel, a young Dutch boy sent to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp with his mother.
Henry Meyer, a young German violin virtuoso deported to Auschwitz.
Bella Ouziel, a young Greek girl sent to Auschwitz, and after surviving a death march, is liberated at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Zahava Rendler, a young Jewish Polish girl hidden during the war.
Anne-Willem Meijer, a non-Jewish boy who participated in resistance activities.
Matt and Anneliese Yosafat, a young German girl and a young Greek boy who separately go into hiding with their families and later marry.
Though the museum’s rich reserve of local stories is fascinating, the museum does feature displays that transport visitors back into the war happening in Europe. Facts and figures that explain the staggering atrocities at the labor and death camps are readily available throughout the exhibitions.
They delve into the gradual demise of the Jewish communities as the Jews were herded into ghettos and later transported to labor and death camps. The museum deftly describes what the Cincinnati residents survived before they arrived.
The Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust And Humanity Center also extends beyond WWII and the Holocaust to bring the public’s attention to hate crimes and genocide happening in all parts of the world, even today. In the last section of the museum, visitors are once again invited to hear personal stories of what’s happening in Rwanda, Cambodia, and here in the United States. It’s a museum unlike any other. Uniquely Cincinnati and the stories that the people here have to tell.
Have you visited other Holocaust museums? What impacted you most?