The museum itself is impressive. The architecture lends itself to the story it is telling, with sharp corners that our tour guide Shael told us represent the feeling of not knowing what is coming next. The dim lighting and overhead lights reminiscent of shower heads are meant to make you feel uncomfortable as you wind your way in and out of the various rooms. Shael, an ex-truck driver with a gleam in his eye, was extremely knowledgeable and answered every question we fielded him as we moved from room to room.
Looking back, I think I was hesitant to visit the museum because I felt like there is only so many times you can learn the same information without wanting to bang your head into the wall. But this museum presented me with so much new information that made it refreshing. Shael took us to a wall depicting the Nazi Euthanasia T4 Program, aimed at killing anyone that was not a perfect Aryan. He explained that a Catholic bishop publicly denounced it, leading to a widespread opposition that ending up stopping the program. I was struck by the simplicity of one person standing up for something they believed in, and actually instigating change. Shael remarked that it is a great lesson for young students to learn to stand up against bullying, and that the museum actually has programs that help students do so.
The lighting brightened and the mood shifted towards the positive as we approached the halfway part of the museum, marked with an authentic boxcar that would give anyone the chills. There was a beautiful room in which local survivor stories were displayed, and this lead into the 1977 attempted Nazi march and more recent history that connected to Skokie. I was waiting for that “ah hah” moment at the end of the exhibit, and found it in a picture that was one of the last things you see before you leave. It was an aerial shot of about five hundred survivors sitting at a recent convention at the Kotel. Tears started welling up in my eyes as I just stood there and stared at the picture. To me, that summed the whole museum up in one haunting image. So much has happened, and yet here we are, there they are. And here is this beautiful museum that gives justice to such horrendous acts, and brings a little peace of light and knowledge into the darkness.
Class of 2013