Speakers laud Rotarian's involvement at opening of Holocaust museum
The Room of Rembrance inside the Illinois Holocaust Museum offers visitors the opportunity to reflect on the Holocaust. Photo by Joel Lerner/Kring Lerner Group
The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, which opened 19 April, is more than just 65,000 square feet of bricks and mortar for many people, including Rotarian and Holocaust survivor Sam Harris.
As museum board president, Harris helped guide the project through more than 10 years of planning and building. It may be one of the last institutions of its kind built with the active participation of Holocaust survivors.
Thousands turned out for the opening ceremony in Skokie, Illinois, USA, an event that highlighted the museum's purpose and Harris's role in the project. Harris, a member of the Rotary Club of Northbrook, was thanked for his work by nearly a dozen dignitaries and politicians. The remarks included video messages from U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Audience members included several U.S. politicians and ambassadors from Germany, Poland, and other countries around the world. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel and former U.S. President Bill Clinton spoke at the event.
J.B. Pritzker, museum capital campaign chair and trustee, recalled a story he had heard about Harris that demonstrated his tenacity and unwavering hope. As a nine year old in a concentration camp, Harris managed to crawl out after dark and slip into a warehouse to steal potatoes for others. One night, a guard grabbed him. Harris found himself staring at the barrel of a gun. He managed to shake the guard's grip and run back into the camp without being pursued. What gave Harris the will to escape the guard's grasp, Pritzker said, was remembering that it's not about running from the demon but to the goal.
"We know firsthand this evil," Harris told the audience. "We have survived, and now we must give accounts to the world so our children and grandchildren can learn from the past."
Wiesel said genocide does not occur in isolation. "What happens to one community happens to all communities."
Clinton, the keynote speaker, like others throughout the day, stressed that although the museum was built for remembrance and learning, we must do more than that if we are to truly say "never again."
"People have been dying for too long because of who they are," Clinton said. "It's not enough to refrain from doing evil; we must stand up against it."
Many of those who came to the opening did so, in part, to take a stand for what the museum represents: saying yes to life and light and no to darkness and evil, a concept integrated into the building's architecture. As expressed by the speakers at the event, the museum is more than a repository for artifacts; it is a monument to the hopes for a future without genocide -- a future not yet realized.