The following story appeared in the Park Labrea News and Beverly Press 70th Anniversary issue, published April 21. To view the entire issue, click here.
Thousands of people will assemble in Pan Pacific Park on May 1 for Yom Hashoah, the annual day of remembrance commemorating victims of the Holocaust. The Los Angeles Holocaust Memorial and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) serve as monuments to the 6 million Jews and others who were killed by the Nazis during World War II.
The idea to establish a museum grew from a group of Holocaust survivors who in 1961, were taking English as a second language classes at Hollywood High School. They often gathered at Pan Pacific Park to share photographs, clothing and other Holocaust artifacts. It seemed to be the logical location for the museum.
“This park was a hub for post-war, post-Holocaust Jewish life. This was a neighborhood that had a very high concentration of Jewish refugees,” said LAMOTH executive director Samara Hutman.
“1961 was only 16 years after the Holocaust, and in terms of time, 16 years is a minute. Here were these men and women who were so close to the event itself. I think it’s very meaningful given all that they had gone through that they had a drive to create something for the public. This small group of survivors was on the vanguard of understanding that this was going to be a subject that would require a place and a space and a dedicated effort to study it, to disseminate learning about it and to have an internal, organizational and institutional dialogue of all the complexities.”
The desire grew to build a museum but funds needed to be raised. The group went to the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles for help. The museum first opened in a building on Vermont Avenue, and was located in various buildings in the Miracle Mile. Finally, the dream became a reality in 2010 when LAMOTH opened in Pan Pacific Park. The museum follows the same mission its founders envisioned – providing a place for remembrance that is informative, educational and relevant in modern times.
“Their mission from the beginning was to commemorate and educate about the Holocaust, free to the public, which I think is a very meaningful piece of the mandate of the founding survivors. That was important to them, a basic tenet of their work, that the thing they wanted to create would always be free and no one would be turned away,” Hutman said.
LAMOTH had approximately 50,000 visitors last year, half of which were students, a testament to its role in education. Student tours and programs with interactive involvement fulfill its educational mission. Survivors, many now in their 80s and 90s, lecture regularly at the museum and their stories have been recorded and archived.
The museum also serves as a vault for documents, photographs, artifacts and relics from the Holocaust period of 1933-1945. Visitors can hear testimonials from a soldier who helped liberate a concentration camp and learn about pre-Holocaust Jewish life. Exhibits about the rise of the Nazis are displayed. Information about the destruction of Jewish communities in occupied German territories, and the ultimate removal of Jewish citizens to ghettos and concentration camps serve as harsh reminders of the period. The museum shows the human suffering that was inflicted and conveys the brutality and dehumanization. It also shows the horror of extermination and genocide inflicted during the Holocaust. And while there was much despair, visitors also learn stories of hope and resistance, and how people survived after the camps were liberated.
One of the museum’s goals is for visitors to take with them a sense of the survivors’ struggles and a determination to fight against the discrimination and hatred that led to the Holocaust. The exhibits keep the stories alive and help guard against history repeating itself.
“The hope is people will be aware of this possibility and understand the need to protect the world,” Hutman said. “The study of history, especially history like this, is critical for a humane civilization.”
Many of the museum’s exhibits are interactive, including the Tree of Testimony displaying video screens along “branches” near the museum’s entrance. Testimony from 51,000 survivors are broadcast on the screens, allowing visitors to hear directly from the people who experienced the Holocaust.
One hundred Torah scrolls that were looted by the Nazis and believed to be lost have been recovered and are now on display for the first time at LAMOTH.
The museum also takes its stories outside its walls, providing resources for teaching and programs in schools, temples and community centers. Hutman is proud the museum’s attendance is growing and programs are expanding, keeping the stories of Holocaust survivors fresh and pertinent in the minds of people, young and old.
“There is nothing like hearing from someone who lived through it personally or seeing an artifact that allows you to start piecing together history,” she added. “The museum always understood the preciousness of one person’s story, one person’s artifact. We are a local museum grounded in family history. And the stories will always carry on with the children and grandchildren of the survivors who made it possible.”
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.