A major new, interactive museum of the Holocaust and humanity will rise in downtown Orlando, under a partnership announced Thursday between the Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center of Florida and a foundation established by Steven Spielberg.
The Holocaust Museum for Hope & Humanity is envisioned as a major educational and cultural attraction that could both draw on the city’s 75 million annual visitors and provide a new attraction for the City Beautiful: a powerful, historical and contemporary, educational immersion.
The Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center of Florida, which currently has a smaller-scale version of the concept in Maitland, announced it is partnering with the USC Shoah Foundation – The Institute for Visual History and Education to go global in the effort. Spielberg created the foundation after he made his epic 1993 Holocaust film, “Schindler’s List.”
The vision is to draw on the same kinds of visionary attractions that create theme parks’ most cutting-edge interactive attractions; then add the Holocaust Memorial’s 40-year efforts to preserve, present, and provide context for Holocaust survivors’ experiences; and the foundation’s commitment to research, archival preservation, and education that Spielberg has described as, “my wanting to continue ‘Schinder’s List.'”
“When we first went out to meet with the folks at Shoah Foundation [the question was,] why are they partnering with you? They’ve had so many opportunities over the decades to partner with other organizations. The simple fact is our visions really coincided,” said Pamela Kancher, executive director of The Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center of Florida.
Those visions coincide with the belief that survivors’ stories can and must help promote empathy, understanding, and respect.
“We wanted to build a museum that showed the significance and importance of Holocaust survivor testimony. Really, all survivor testimony … to really be able to see the world through the survivors’ eyes, rather than the perpetrators eyes,” she said.
Orlando’s normal pool of 75 million visitors a year also was a factor. Planners envision offering the kind of immersive, educational experience that could become a must-take side trip for families visiting theme parks.
A 40,000-square-foot museum is envisioned for the north end of Orlando’s Downtown, just inside an Interstate-4 interchange.
The USC Shoah Foundation team, led by Finci-Viterbi Executive Director and UNESCO Chair on Genocide Education Stephen Smith, is doing the planning. Ralph Appelbaum Associates, a multidisciplinary firm specializing in the planning and design of museums and exhibits, serves as the lead exhibition designer.
If all goes well, they hope to break ground in 2022 and open the doors in 2024.
“Orlando has shown itself to be a community that cares about human rights and justice, which is why building this new museum and welcoming the USC Shoah Foundation partnership is both important and appropriate,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer stated in a news release. “Our city will now play an even greater role in righting the wrongs of the past and contributing to a kinder world.”
The museum is envisioned to provide education and experience that goes far beyond the Holocaust – to explore the human rights and justice issues that Dyer mentioned. Kancher spoke of meshing the experiences and lessons of the Holocaust with contemporary concerns and events, to apply lessons and create experiences that put modern-day situations into context.
In that respect, the museum would have a similar mission to the Pulse Memorial and Museum the onePULSE Foundation plans for south of downtown Orlando. That institution, planned on and near the site of the 2016 mass murder at the Pulse nightclub, is projected as a place for reflection, love, hope, transformation of lives, and showers of tears.
“Having both of our museums in downtown Orlando is such a big benefit for our entire community. While our missions are similar, they are different, because our focus is on the Holocaust, and to use that as a point of reference for talking about human and civil rights,” Kancher said.
Among resources to be drawn upon is the USC Shoah Foundation’s archive of more than 55,000 video interviews with Holocaust survivors and other witnesses to genocide.
The Florida center was founded as an institution in 1980 by Holocaust survivor and local philanthropist, Tess Wise. The current 7,000-square-foot museum opened in Maitland in 1986. Its mission is to use the history and lessons of the Holocaust “to build a just and caring community free of antisemitism and all forms of prejudice and bigotry.”
“This partnership will continue to teach important lessons from history and in ways that engage and remain memorable,” Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings stated in the news release. “That’s how we change the future.”