Here at the Renaissance Chicago North Shore we like to get out and explore our neighborhood and local communities. From visiting local theaters, galleries, and museums, to checking-out the newest restaurants, exploring Chicago’s North Shore is always a treat for us. The communities that make up the North Shore are full of surprises and hidden gems, but not all gems have to be hidden; some can be prominent institutions.
One of those prominent institutions, which Chicago’s North Shore proudly calls home, is the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. Since the late 1970’s, this museum has been a mainstay in the Skokie community, a community which has the largest per capita population of Holocaust survivors outside of Israel. In 2009 the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center opened its doors on this new facility, a dream which took 30 years and the collective effort of the dedicated community of survivors that spans not only the Village of Skokie, but the entirety of Chicago’s North Shore. This institution is so very special because of the deep roots from which this Museum pulls its history. Not only does the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center draw from the community’s living memory, but it strives to make it a better place. The goal of the museum is not only to remember those who were lost, or survived the past, but also to work on educating the minds of the future about the terrible pitfalls of hate and prejudice. The active role that the Museum takes in the lives of the North Shore, and the education of the children of the Chicago Area, is what makes this museum a pillar of the community in which it resides.
The Museum was created with every detail being carefully thought-out. From the exhibits, to the reflection spaces, to the architecture of the building itself, the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center was constructed to impact and guide our journey through the exhibits by moving us from the dark into the light. Designed by renowned architect Stanley Tigerman, the building incorporates both historical and emotional symbolism and has itself become a monument.
It is within these beautifully designed walls that we found a museum where exhibits have been curated with care, understanding, and the loving hand of remembrance. Starting with the permanent Karkomi Exhibition, we are guided through the full history of the Holocaust from pre-war European life to resettlement across the world, with a specific focus on Skokie’s rich Jewish history. This journey is told through artifacts, documents, and photographs. However, it was the survivor stories that were intertwined with the historical facts of the exhibit that provided us with an experience that we found both profoundly moving and personal.
We found The Harvey L. Miller Family Youth Exhibit most refreshing, as well as enlightening. While designed for children between 8 and 12 years of age, for us it is the true embodiment of the Museum’s dedication to their mission of educating future generations about the importance of tolerance and acceptance. We loved their interactive exhibits, which teach the importance of speaking-up against intolerance, and being respectful of the differences that make our community and world great. For us, the most significant and impactful portion of the exhibit is the interactive area, which allows users to virtually stand-up to bullying. On our recent visit to the Museum, we were able to see the special exhibits that they are currently hosting: Lost Stories, Found Images: Portraits of Jews in Wartime Amsterdam by Annemie Wolff, is an exhibit on loan from Amsterdam as well as Women Hold Up Half the Sky, an original exhibit created in collaboration with the YWCA Evanston/North Shore. While the permanent exhibits intrigued us, it is their distinctive rotating exhibits that we are looking forward to visiting again in the future.
The contemplative spaces are, by far, the most unique part of the Museum to us. These strategically planned spaces are the doorways that allowed us to digest all of which we had seen, heard, and learned from each exhibit and leave us with a heart full of hope. The Fountain of the Righteous was the perfect location to end our visit. The fountain, which honors those who risked and sacrificed everything they had to rescue Jewish refugees during the war, encapsulates the theme of the Museum. As the museum continues to educate future generations on how to combat hatred, prejudice, and indifference, we found that this fountain perfectly epitomizes the Holocaust Museum and Education Center’s mission: Remember the Past, Transform the Future. A visit to the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center is an experience that will touch you deeply as you reflect on the human condition while contemplating your own role within greater society.