Holocaust Museum: Enhanced youth exhibit inspires kids to stand up
Eight-year-old Sammie Gelfeld of Northbrook explores one of the exhibits Sunday in the enhanced Miller Family Youth Exhibition at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center. | Paul Goyette~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 21, 2011 9:04AM
More than two years later, the simplest of words continue to be as meaningful as ever.
“Make a difference.”
The Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center Sunday celebrated its newly enhanced Miller Family Youth Exhibition — now called “Make A Difference! The Miller Family Youth Exhibition.”
When this special part of the museum was dedicated in the summer of 2009, Museum Executive Director Richard Hirschhaut called the space on the ground floor “an experiment” of sorts.
Said Hirschhaut only months after the museum opened: “It’s an extraordinary experiment predicated upon the firm belief that young people as early as we can ought to be and deserve to be given the opportunity to think about their role in the world, to think about the kind of people they wish to be, the kind of people they wish to be defined as becoming, and to do all of that in a space that is engaging and colorful and lends itself to imagination, and that is defined by each and every child.”
Rethinking the youth exhibit doesn’t alter those lofty words in any way; it just enhances them.
That was learned Sunday when Holocaust survivors, families, friends and community members gathered with museum personnel to take a look at what’s new in the museum’s important space.
The answer, they learned, is a lot.
“It is our hope that this exhibit will spur ongoing conversation among families about the importance of respecting people’s differences,” said Harvey Miller, principal benefactor of the permanent exhibit. “It is never too early to talk about kids standing up for themselves and others.”
The exhibit continues to target children ages 8 to 12 with appropriate lessons related to diversity and responsible citizenship.
It features new interactive stations that explore such themes as fairness and respect, identity, diversity, taking a stand against bullying, speaking out against racism, intolerance and discrimination and social and civic responsibility.
Major highlights of the exhibit combine old and new features such as the “Take A Stand” virtual reality game where kids help frogs confront bullies in their pond; school lockers that open up to stories about courageous people who took a stand; a game having kids race against the clock to identify what’s happening on the playground and the people who are helping; an interactive area to provide advice to kids who find themselves in difficult situations; and a large 3-D puzzle where kids decipher who is being left out at the cafeteria table.
A new entryway mural provides a welcoming flavor to the exhibit and sets up the overriding theme.
If you hang around the Illinois Holocaust Museum for any time, chances are you will hear someone use the term “upstander.”
And that word — the opposite of bystander — is especially relevant to the goals of the Miller Family Youth Exhibit, which inspires children to stand up and be heard when cruelty is inflicted on other people.
Very purposefully, the area was built and redesigned so young people do not have to experience the more graphic and disturbing history from the Holocaust that appears in the upstairs exhibit. But museum planners believe they can learn the importance of doing right at an early age, a lesson that hopefully will stick for life.
Hirschhaut said that tens of thousands of students have discovered “the importance of finding their voice and speaking up for what is right” since the museum opened more than two years ago.
“The Miller Family Youth Exhibition provides a safe space for families to learn how to navigate challenging social situations and to discover their own power to stand up for fairness and mutual respect,” he said.