The St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum Reopens on Nov. 2
By Rachel Huffman
A significant destination and an indispensable resource for the entire region, the St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum reopens on Nov. 2, continuing its mission to teach visitors how to reject hatred, promote understanding and inspire change.
After a two-year, $21 million renovation and expansion, the new 36,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility is four times the size of the previous museum, which served the community for more than 25 years.
“We welcome 20,000 to 30,000 people a year, including a number of students, and we have a wonderful connection to the community,” communications manager Amy Lutz says, “but it was time for a makeover. We wanted to refresh the history, introduce new technology, create more space and reach the community in different ways. That’s what really sparked the renovation and expansion.”
Entering the St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum, visitors are met with a bright, airy space, where they can take a break and take a breath during their visit. Like other areas of the museum, the lobby features “broken” design elements to represent the history of the Jewish people.
The main exhibition begins with wedding photos, family photos and class photos as well as information about the lifestyles, traditions and values of Jewish communities in Europe so that visitors can better understand what was broken and shattered during the Holocaust. Although most were ordinary people, there’s beauty in everyday life, and that precious simplicity was devastating to lose.
Starting in the 1970s, local volunteers compiled 144 oral histories, which became an invaluable resource when curating the main exhibition. Over the years, approximately 850 survivors who relocated to St. Louis have been identified, and their voices – along with those of witnesses and liberators – guide visitors through vignettes exploring the history of anti-Semitism, the rise of Nazism, World War I and its aftermath, Kristallnacht, the ghetto system, death marches, the liberation of the camps, the lasting impact of the Holocaust and more.
“The Holocaust has a direct connection to the St. Louis community because of the survivors who helped build this museum,” director of education Helen Turner says. “The museum does a wonderful job of spotlighting this shared history, but I think that it’s also a beautiful community space where people can have difficult conversations. I see it as not only a historical museum but also as a living space for courageous conversations.”
By facing the devastation of the Holocaust and trying to comprehend the trauma that millions of Jews experienced, we gain the knowledge, compassion and strength to stand up to hate, bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism and injustice in the world today. At the St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum, the main exhibition in conjunction with the Impact Lab were created for just that purpose.
“The Impact Lab is designed to bring the lessons of the Holocaust to today,” Turner says. “It addresses genocide, hate crimes, biases and stereotyping, answering the question, ‘What do you do when you learn the dark and difficult history of the Holocaust?’ A lot of Holocaust museums focus solely on the narrative of the Holocaust and leave folks with the notion that they must go forth, make a change, prevent genocide. That’s a huge task to put on the shoulders of any visitor, not to mention those of, say, a 13 year old. The Impact Lab is a place to work out what that means.
“We start from looking at ourselves,” Turner continues, “asking, ‘What changes can I make within myself? How do I see other people? How do I use and respond to stereotypes? How do I absorb biases?’ Then, we go further, thinking about ways to address discrimination, call out slurs and even get the government involved in the prevention of genocide. The Impact Lab is a space where everyone can explore different avenues and different reactions, making a real commitment to ‘never again,’ not just with our words but also with our actions.”
The world-class institution also features a 224-seat auditorium, where its film series and other special events will take place, and the lower level houses the museum archive, its research room and a temporary exhibition space.
The St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum will be open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Although the museum doesn’t focus on graphic imagery, it’s designed for people 10 and older, given the challenging nature of the Holocaust.