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?
Super interesting. I think connecting with individual narratives of holocaust survivors is so important and keep the real heartbreak and horror so personal. Seems like a good place to visit at reflect at in the city.
It was very personal, especially if you’re a Cincinnatian, I think, because the names are recognizable in our city. I know the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. tries to personalize it, too, by giving visitors a card with the name of a person to look up at the end. Both approaches are powerful, for sure.
History via stories always has the potential to connect with people more than just the facts. But really glad this museum extends to other atrocities as well. Such senseless loss of lives in all these genocides.
I agree. The other stories in the last wing of the museum are almost more impactful because they’re more immediate.
Wow, I’m a little embarrassed that I didn’t know this was part of the museum center. Thanks for enlightening me! Sounds like it’s definitely worth a visit when my kids are older.
No need to be embarrassed. I didn’t know anything about it, either, until I met Len, the docent at another event. The museum is a fairly new addition. Just this year, I believe.
Oh haha, OK, thanks. That is reassuring!
I love the tie in to Cincinnati with the survivors who immigrated. It helps personalize the experience from something that happened in Europe in the past, to an event that involves your neighborhood and community.
I’m getting chills just reading this so I can imagine it was incredibly impactful to visit. I like that the museum has a new take on the Holocaust that is specific to Cincinnati itself, and also how the holocaust didn’t necessarily end with WWII, but went on to affect the rest of those people’s lives, and the communities that they immigrated to!
I found that post-war angle interesting, too. I took several courses on the Holocaust and WWII in college and one was about the survivors. There seemed to be two camps, for the most part: those who lived cautiously and frugally, knowing that anything could happen because it had. And those that never wanted to talk about it again. I think the latter was the bigger group. Which makes sense, if you think about it, especially if they’d emigrated somewhere new and probably didn’t have many people to talk to about it.
Juliann are people in the US (generally speaking) as aware of the Holocaust as we would be in Europe?
Personally I wouldn’t have the courage to go to such a place, knowing full well what went on. It’s good though that some survived to tell their stories. A Jerseyman, Harold Le Druillenec, was the only Briton to survive Bergen-Belsen and he resumed his career as a teacher here after the War.
You pose an interesting question, Roy. I do think people are aware, though to actually visit Holocaust Museums such as the big one in Washington, D.C. is not something many people choose to do. We definitely have that protective layer between us since it did not happen here. The Jewish community in Cincinnati is very active with their Holocaust Survivor Speaker Series, and we have the Hebrew Union College, so we have opportunity here to learn about it. Do we? I think many of us do. I think there are others who don’t know want to know more than what we learn in school. For them, that may be enough.
And an interesting answer. Much easier and understandable to acknowledge and move on, but I’m impressed with those that keep the flame of remembrance alive.
I’ve been to several Holocaust museums and like that this one takes a different approach. I’m looking to visit Cincinnati next year so I’m going to keep this in mind. While it’s incredibly depressing to visit places like this, it is something I attempt to do when available.