Holocaust Museum for Hope and Humanity

College Park Community Paper

by David Karch on May 29, 2018

In our world, which is littered with divisiveness, lack of mutual respect, and outright hate, it is with open arms that Ivanhoe Village will welcome the new Holocaust Museum for Hope and Humanity. Currently residing in Maitland, the museum plans to move to the former Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce building located at 75 S. Ivanhoe Blvd.

Tess Wise, a holocaust survivor, founded the museum back in the 1980s. Her daughter, Ellen Wise Lang, president of the museum’s board of directors, said they simply outgrew the current museum. She said, “When school classes visit us now, they consume every corner of our current facility, allowing for no one else to visit at those times.”

Indeed, the museum will grow from 7,000 square feet to more than 40,000 square feet. The extra space will allow for all the current exhibits plus ample room for traveling exhibits, an auditorium, classrooms, and several quiet areas for reflection.

Jim Shapiro, a past president of the museum and current co-chair of the capital campaign, hopes the museum will educate and inspire not only the local community but also the millions of people who visit Central Florida each year. Shapiro sees a reflection in what our community stands for and the principles of the museum: “acceptance, anti-prejudice, inclusiveness, and tolerance.”

Rita Bornstein, president emerita at Rollins College, says recent research reports that most people today, “especially children,” do not know much about the Holocaust. To that end, Bornstein said, “The Museum offers a wide array of educational experiences that help children and adults understand the evil potential of hate, bullying, discrimination, and genocide.”

One item that does not currently have space in the Maitland museum is a small, red lacquer box that belongs to College Park resident Joanie Schirm. The box contains some 400 letters written by 78 writers, including Schirm’s father, describing the plight of being displaced — most forcibly — from their homelands.

Schirm shared that 44 of her relatives perished in the Holocaust, including her grandparents, and she got to know each of them through these letters.

The museum will also celebrate those who risked their lives to save others. It was Mr. Rogers who said in times of trouble to “look for the helpers. You will always find people helping.”

Lang said: “After decades of study we now know the characteristics of individuals who risked their own lives to protect others. It is my firm belief that we can through our museum exhibits and programming teach everyone to develop those characteristics in themselves, their children and in others in order to ensure a community (and hopefully eventually a world) of people who feel the responsibility to act as those rescuers did during the Holocaust.”

In fact, Lang owes her life to one such person who helped rescue her mother.

Schirm said that we cannot change the past, “but we can shape the future for the better.”

The museum will be another premier cultural asset in downtown Orlando. Shapiro said that by hosting world-class exhibits and engaging the community in cultural events and programs, he hopes the museum will inspire conversation and awaken the conscience of the visitors. “The museum will bring people together to talk about the questions that we share as human beings,” said Shapiro.

The renovation of the space in Ivanhoe Village is estimated to take four years and cost $24 million. Architect Maurizio Maso of HuntonBrady designed the building to allow ample light to flow into the space to represent hope in darkness. Perhaps the museum will serve as a beacon of light to lift the pall of gloom that currently pervades so much of society.

Pam Kancher, executive director of the current Holocaust museum in Maitland, said, “For over 35 years our mission has been to use the history and lessons of the Holocaust to create a more inclusive community free of anti-Semitism and all forms of hate and prejudice.”

Dr. Bornstein perhaps best said why the new Holocaust Museum for Hope and Humanity is so important: “It is morally imperative to promote compassion, understanding and respect in a country and world so full of divisiveness and distrust.”

Welcome to the community.