Early years a tireless effort
Updated: May 27, 2012 8:14AM
“We have not wasted a minute.”
Perhaps no other sentence can better summarize the tireless urgency that the Illinois Holocaust Museum has reflected during its three years in Skokie.
On the April 19 anniversary of the institution — often considered a “sacred place” by those who visit — Executive Director Rick Hirschhaut looked back at the museum’s milestones, concluding with that sentence.
“Not only does our cherished museum stand as a citadel to memory and hope, but its daily rhythms express the resilience, the strength and the optimism that has defined the survivors since their earliest days in America,” Hirschhaut said. “There is a spirit and energy in these walls.”
Three years ago, the museum held its opening ceremony on a cold and rainy afternoon with dignitaries such President Bill Clinton and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel delivering addresses.
Museum leaders promised an institution that would preserve the memories of the Holocaust, telling the stories of survivors and those who perished.
But an equally important part of the institution has been about education and encouraging people — especially children — to stand up against cruelty to others.
In three years, Hirschhaut said, more than 300,000 people have visited the Illinois Holocaust Museum.
“There is nothing quite like seeing busloads of kids pouring into the building each and every day for an experience that changes their lives,” he said.
In the same room where people gathered to mark the museum’s third anniversary, 120 new Americans from more than 30 countries “swore allegiance to the United States of America and because naturalized U.S. Citizens,” Hirschhaut recalled.
More than 500 police officers and cadets have learned about history at the museum to bring greater understanding and sensitivity to the diverse populations whom they serve.
More than 2,000 student leaders from elementary, junior and high schools have participated in student leadership days at the museum.
Former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley held the last three of the city’s annual Holocaust Remembrance Day programs at the museum. Mayor Rahm Emanuel will carry on that tradition in a couple of weeks.
“We have so much in which to be proud and yet,” Hirschhaut said, “we still have so much more to do.”
The Illinois Holocaust Museum, located at 9603 Woods Drive, Skokie, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and until 8 p.m. Thursdays as well as from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends.
For more information, access www.ilholocaustmuseum.org.