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September 07, 1984 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-09-07

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Friday, September 7, 1984




After two decades of debate over how
and where to build it, Detro it's
Holocaust Memorial Center is about
to become a reality.

Staff Writer

The HMC's low-slung exterior, foreground, sets off the Garden of the Righteous.

fter two decades, two
site changes, three ar-
chitects, $2.5 million in
funding and countless
debates over size, con-
tent and purpose, Detroit's Holocaust
Memorial Center is about to open its
doors. When it does, on Sept. 16, it will
mark the fulfillment of a 20-year
dream for many area survivors, who
hope the combination museum/
archive will help teach a new genera-
tion of Americans — Jew and non-Jew
alike — how the Holocaust happened.
Any criticism of the long-term
project will surely be muted once a-vis-
itor has toured the HMC. That's how
impressive is its impact, how valuable
its contribution.
The facility, which bills itself as
the first exclusively designed
Holocaust memorial center of its kind
in the United States, is housed in a
low-slung, outwardly nondescript
building adjacent to the Jewish Com-
munity Center in West Bloomfield. A
formal dinner at the Westin Hotel,
with Jeane Kirkpatrick, the U.S. Am-
bassador to the United Nations,
scheduled to appear as the guest
speaker, will highlight the opening
day festivities.
The HMC's somewhat spartan ex-
terior, distinguished only by a brick
relief on the south facade which
starkly depicts the smokestacks of a
concentration camp crematorium,
serves a dual function, according to
Rabbi Charles Rosenzveig, director of
the center. In the first place, the brand
new-building blends in perfectly with
the ten-year=old JCC, giving the ap-
pearance that both facilities were

erected at the same time. Secondly, the
plain exterior, designed by Detroit ar-
chitect Leonard Siegal, serves as a foil
for the dynamic displays inside, which
after all, are the soul of what has be-
come a 20-year mission.
From the moment one enters the
HMC, which by late last month was
more than 90 percent finished, the
gruesome experiences and passionate
emotions that marked the Nazi era
and resulted in the deaths of six mil-
lion Jews seem to jump forward, eerily
transporting the visitor from America
in the 1980s to the Europe of a half-
century ago. The center's long, dimly
lit tunnels set the stage for the im-
pending disaster that was the
Holocaust, which is defined by a
plaque on one wall as the systematic
attempt to destroy the Jewish people.
The first few corridors serve as a
prologue, chronicling the rich Jewish
culture of pre-war Europe and the his-
tory of anti-Semitism. They end
abruptly with film footage of people
being loaded into cattle cars, accom-
panied by the exhortations of Adolph
Hitler culled from radio broadcasts
"In order to better understand the
true impact'of the Holocaust, a person
must realize the scope of the social and
cultural. activity that existed* before
this tragic event," according to the
rabbi. "That is why when you go
through the Warsaw section of the
museum, you are not dealing with the
Warsaw Ghetto alone, but the Warsaw
community%s a whole."
And although the pre-Holocaust
exhibits and dioramas fill only a com-
paratively small portion of the

A portion of the center is devoted to the richness of ewish cultural life prior to the Nazi era.


museum, thad• attempt to achieve a
balance, to present the richness of
what transpired before the Hitler
rampage and then offer the story of
how that richness was destroyed, is ac-
tually one of the focal points of the
HMC experience.
In stark contrast to the displays
which depict the carefree life of the
shtetl and the energetic pioneer
Zionists facing the challenges of the
then-barren Palestine are the hand-
crafted exhibits on life in the ghettos,
and finally the concentration camps.
Many of these scenes were painstak-
ingly created using original materials
from Europe and the camps them-
selves; there is a section of barbed wire
fence that once served as a barrier at
Auschwitz, for example. A life-size

replica of a portion of the brick wall
surrounding the Warsaw Ghetto,
complete with posted notices warning
Jews of their impending fate, was re-
produced at a cost of approximately

A hands-on approach to Holocaust
awareness and education is achieved
though exhibits like the Life-Chance
computer game, which places the sub-
ject in pre-war Berlin, presenting him
with a series of choices that will ulti-
mately determine his fate as the
events of the Holocaust unfold. While
the object of the game is to escape un-
scathed, the lesson learned is that for
those who actually endured the
tragedy, such life-affecting decisions
were never reached easily — and there

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