Holocaust Museum: Jewish World War II vets drive new exhibit
Graduation Day at Thunderbird Field, a military airfield in Arizona used for flight training of allied pilots during World War II. | From the collection of Philip Topiel
Updated: February 27, 2012 8:15AM
More than 400 voices are behind the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center’s forthcoming comprehensive exhibition exploring American Jews who fought in World War II.
That’s how many Jewish servicemen and women were interviewed for Ours to Fight For: American Jews in the Second World War, which is scheduled to open Feb. 19 in the downstairs space of the Skokie museum.
“This is among the most poignant and personal exhibitions that we have had the privilege of hosting as it highlights an essential part of the war effort,” said Museum Executive Director Rick Hirschhaut.
The exhibition brings to life the experiences of Jewish men and women — both on and off the battlefield — who served in America’s Armed Forces more than 60 years ago.
All facets of the Armed Forces are represented in the program — soldiers and sailors, airmen and marines.
The award-winning exhibition was curated by the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York City, but the Skokie appearance will mark its Midwest debut.
Like many of the provocative traveling exhibitions displayed at the Skokie museum, Ours To Fight For uses a variety of artifacts to weave a larger tapestry. Presented in video, audio and as written “labels,” the veterans’ testimonies become, in a sense, “exhibition artifacts” that provide human context for letters, documents, military paraphernalia and images, museum leaders say.
Those interviewed for the exhibition describe why they joined the fight as well as the shock and horror that U.S. forces felt upon discovery of the concentration and death camps in Eastern Europe.
“The work of our colleagues at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in gathering oral histories parallels our own ongoing effort to focus upon individual stories of courage and resilience,” Hirschhaut said. “The exhibit is a blending of personal reflections and other artifacts including an amazing collection of uniforms from Jewish veterans, gathered as if hanging in a closet. (It) gives emotional heft to this window into the war experience.” Also part of the exhibition are interactive stations allowing visitors to explore how different groups who served in the military during the war experienced World War II. Represented are African Americans, Japanese Americans, Native Americans, Chinese Americans and Latinos.
More than 200 artifacts comprise the project including a Jewish prayer book of Staff Sgt. Jacob Eines, who was hit by shrapnel but saved because the prayer book was inside his breast pocket; the accordion Hermann Goering gave to the Jewish GI who interrogated him after his surrender; and a Torah scroll used by Chaplain Rabbi David Max Eichhorn at the first Jewish service conducted at Dachau after the camp was liberated (together with the film taken at that service).
The exhibition concludes with a Wall of Honor featuring photographs of nearly 400 local World War II service people.
Ours to Fight For: American Jews in the Second World War was named 2004 Grand-Prize winner of the Excellence in Exhibition Competition at the American Association of Museums’ annual meeting. Citing the exhibition’s use of first-person narrative, the judges declared this approach engaged museum visitors and allowed them to make connections with the experiences of soldiers 60 years ago and those of troops serving today.
Major funding for the exhibition is provided by Jack and Susan Rudin and Family in memory of Lewis Rudin; by Irving Schneider in memory of his friend, Lewis Rudin; and by Irving and June Paler in memory of June’s father, Duncan Robertson, who fought in both World Wars.
This Midwest premiere of the exhibition has been made possible by funding from the Golder Family Foundation and Steve and Maria Quinlan Farber.
The Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, located at 9603 Woods Drive, Skokie is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and to 8 p.m. Thursdays and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends.
The exhibition will be available for viewing with the purchase of a ticket to the museum.