Preserving Holocaust stories aim of Belltown museum
The museum, scheduled to open in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, will display artifacts from the Holocaust and feature testimonies from survivors, an interactive exhibit exploring human-rights issues, a library and research center, and a classroom for up to about 100 students.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Henry Friedman has told the story for years, of how he and his family hid in the countryside, while the Nazis annihilated his hometown of Brody, Poland.
Of the town’s 9,000 to 10,000 Jews, about 100 survived the Holocaust.
Had Julia Symchuck, a 17-year-old Ukrainian who worked as a maid at the local police station, not warned Friedman’s father that the Gestapo was after him, the Friedman family almost certainly would have been killed.
“To this day I have to pinch myself, many times. How did I survive?” he said.
Soon, Friedman, 86, and the state’s other survivors will have a new place to share their stories. On Wednesday, the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center unveiled its plan for the first Holocaust museum in the Pacific Northwest.
The museum, scheduled to open in January in storefront space in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, will display artifacts from the Holocaust and feature testimonies from survivors, an interactive exhibit exploring human-rights issues, temporary exhibits, a library and research center, and a classroom that can accommodate about 100 students.
The 6,000-square-foot museum at 2033 Second Ave. will be named for its largest donors: Henry and Sandra Friedman Holocaust Center for Humanity. So far, $1.5 million has been raised for the $3.4 million project.
While the museum’s focus is the Holocaust, its broader mission is to examine intolerance, said Executive Director Dee Simon.
The museum, she explained, will be divided into four parts to show how hate can evolve into human-rights abuses and even genocide.
Simon said the museum will teach why it’s important to be engaged in a community and show, in the stories of rescuers, that one person’s actions can matter.
“Each one of us is different, each one of us can make a difference, but because we are so different we should not be indifferent when we see injustice being done to fellow human beings,” Friedman said.
Seattle has had a Holocaust center since 1989, but it doesn’t typically get walk-in visitors.
The center is the only organization in the Pacific Northwest that works directly with students, teachers and community members to provide educational material, curriculum and access to Holocaust survivors.
Simon said the museum will allow them to reach thousands, who will not only learn about the Holocaust, but about human-rights violations ranging from genocide to bullying, suicide, hate crimes and discrimination.
Even though the state recommends teaching students about the Holocaust, no funds are set aside to support that curriculum.
The ability to bring firsthand accounts to the classroom is fading.
“Time is our enemy today,” said Friedman, who for many years ran a jewelry business. “In a few years there won’t be any eyewitnesses, and yet we have Holocaust deniers saying while we are still alive that the Holocaust didn’t happen.”
There are 200 Holocaust survivors now living in Washington. Simon said 194 testimonies have been recorded.
The center has collected about 5,000 artifacts from the Holocaust — among them, an accordion played at Dachau, a yellow star that Jews were forced to wear on their clothes, and a blanket shared at Auschwitz by five prisoners.
Friedman found it hard to understand why the people he grew up with wanted him dead.
He remembered tutoring a classmate in math, but by 1943 that same classmate was looking to kill him and his family.
“I thought he was my friend and yet he was hunting me like I was an animal,” Friedman said.
However, Julia Symchuck and her family risked their lives to protect Friedman.
The Symchucks, who had worked in the Friedman family’s textile business, hid his mother, younger brother and a teacher in their barn, which had a room the size of a queen bed.
Friedman’s father hid in another barn about a half-mile away.
There was no room to stand, so they either had to sit up or lie down.
The family would get one meal a day — a pot of soup and a piece of bread for each person.
They lived like this for 18 months. Friedman was 14 when he went into hiding and 16 when he got out.
“By the time I was liberated all I had on me was skin and bones,” he said.
Steve Adler, 84, of Seattle, was barely 8 years old when his parents shipped him and his brother from Hamburg, Germany, to join a Kindertransport going to London by ship.
Kindertransport was a rescue effort that brought thousands of Jewish children to England from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia.
He only knew one sentence in English: “Do you know where the WC (water closet) is?”
In 1938, Adler’s father was arrested and taken to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he was held prisoner for six weeks.
“It was evident he was beaten. He had all kinds of marks on his back,” he said.
His wife, Judy Adler, said her cousin was a year old when he was sent to a concentration camp and tossed into a crematory.
Steve Adler, whose history has been recorded by the center, said he has to speak for the 1.5 million children who were murdered.
“In a sense I’m their voice,” he said.
“When we’re all gone,” he added, “there’s still something that’s going to be left.”
Zahra Farah: 206-464-3195 or email@example.com
Information in this article, originally published June 11, 2014, was corrected June 13, 2014. A previous version of this story misstated Judy Adler’s first name as Jody.