The mission of the Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center of Florida is to use the history and lessons of the Holocaust to build a just and caring community free of antisemitism and all forms of prejudice and bigotry.
Through our extensive outreach of educational and cultural programs and exhibits, we use the lessons of the Holocaust as a tool. We teach the principles of good citizenship to thousands of people of all ages, religions, races, sexual orientations, abilities and backgrounds each year.
The Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center of FL was founded in 1981 as the Holocaust Project of Valencia Community College by Tess Wise, a local Holocaust Survivor from Poland. The Holocaust Project included a broad cross-section of community leaders and organizations that joined together to plan a two-day conference on the Holocaust at a time when Holocaust research and education was in its infancy and Holocaust Survivors were only beginning to tell their stories publicly. Tess believed that by studying the historic, social, moral and ethical lessons of the Holocaust, history would never be allowed to repeat itself. Over 600 people participated in the weekend events. In 1983 a similar conference was held on Terrorism because Tess understood that Hitler and the Nazi party were the very definition of terrorists.
In 1982 the Holocaust Project leadership changed its name and moved from Valencia’s campus to offices in the Jewish Community Center in Maitland. In 1983 it became an independent 501c3 organization with the Rev. Dr. Earl Scarbeary as its first president. Tess served as the volunteer executive director, a position she held for more than 20 years.
In 1986 we opened the doors to our current Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center of Florida, the first Holocaust museum in the Southeast, predating the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC by 7 years.
Since the beginning the Center’s leadership has been dedicated building a respectful and inclusive community where diversity is celebrated. Our mission, as stated above, has remained unchanged. Tess was a visionary who fundamentally understood that we needed to be more than a history museum and memorial to Hitler’s victims. She believed that the lessons of the Holocaust provided a lens through which we could understand contemporary social and human rights issues. We regularly draw connections to and from the Holocaust. For instance, German exclusionary laws that prohibited Jewish children from attending school and swimming in public pools give rise to the examination of Jim Crow laws that outlawed the same. The history and lessons of the Holocaust provide a solid background for us to explore the immigration and refugee crisis, the genocides in Rwanda and Darfur, the human rights crisis in Syria, and the long list of “phobias” and “isms.”
In 1994 the state legislature mandated that Holocaust education must be taught in Florida public schools. As one of only 27 members of the Florida Department of Education’s Task Force on Holocaust Education, it is our responsibility to provide educational resources to a 13-county area, including instructional materials, best practices and professional development. During the 2018-19 school year over 25,000 students from area public and private schools and home school groups visited the Holocaust Center or participated in an in-school presentation by a member of the Center’s education team.
Education, particularly character education aimed at helping local students develop empathy, social responsibility and moral leadership in our racially and culturally diverse community is a primary focus of the Center’s efforts. Perhaps our most remarkable programming to date has been the growth our highly acclaimed UpStanders: Stand Up To Bullying initiative that was launched in 2010. Since its inception, this bullying prevention program, based in Holocaust education, has impacted over 34,000 students in 89 school cohorts in 4 districts. When Mayor Dyer decided to launch his Stand Up Orlando campaign against bullying in 2014, he provided the funding to bring our UpStanders program to all 9 of Orlando’s public middle schools. This specific partnership with Mayor Dyer, OCPS and the Holocaust Center remained in place for 4 years.
Our Center is one of the oldest facilities of its kind in the nation. It is a nonprofit organization supported by tax-exempt donations and is open to the public free of charge.
Holocaust Victims Assistance Program
The Florida Department of Financial Services provides assistance to Florida Holocaust Survivors seeking to recover proceeds from an insurance policy issued to a Holocaust victim and restitution for Nazi-confiscated bank accounts, art and property. For more information, please click here.