HMLC welcomes Shoah expert for gala


An internationally noted Shoah expert will deliver the keynote speech at the 15th anniversary dinner for the area’s premier Holocaust educational institution.

The St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center in Memory of Gloria M. Goldstein will welcome Dr. Michael Berenbaum, a former project director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and director of the national museum’s Research Institute. The event, themed “History’s Lessons…Tomorrow’s Hope,” is set for Sunday, May 16 at 5:30 p.m. at the Frontenac Hilton and will be highlighted by a dinner, a visit from Governor Jay Nixon and a specially produced video segment featuring testimony and reactions from survivors, schoolchildren and others.

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Dan Reich, the institution’s curator and director of education, said the HMLC did not want “a big glitzy gala” but rather wished to keep the anniversary centered on the organization’s mission, education and the lives of survivors.

“There are some museums that hold an annual major event. We have not gone in that direction,” he said. “We really want to honor our survivors and those who put their efforts into creating and sustaining this museum. The idea was to bring in an academic speaker and keep the focus on appreciation of the people.”

The anniversary will also serve as a platform to unveil a conceptualization of HMLC’s latest educational effort, a new project designed to infuse Holocaust education with a focus on relevant events in today’s world.

“The point is to bring that to life for people,” said Jean Cavender, HMLC executive director. “You get to the point where people are leaving the museum saying it was a really excellent exhibition, but they walk away still not knowing the kinds of things that are going on today. We think we can really contemporize the exhibition for everyone to let them know that there is still genocide happening in the world.”

The new initiative, set for launch by the middle of next year, will consist of a touch screen and computer pod that will allow an interactive glance at information about modern tragedies and injustices such as those in Darfur, the Congo, Myanmar or elsewhere. The project, supported by Gloria Feldman, in memory of her late husband Rubin is a joint effort with Webster University.

“The lessons resonate and emanate from the Holocaust,” Reich said, “but when genocide is going on now, those lessons haven’t been learned and that’s what we want to convey so that people won’t be bystanders or indifferent to what is going on today.”

In some respects, the project’s announcement will dovetail with the topic addressed by the evening’s keynoter. Berenbaum, a former deputy director of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust who has also served as president of Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, will speak on the future of Holocaust education and institutions.

“We’re at a very significant, very important transitional moment,” said Berenbaum, who now heads the Berenbaum Group, a consulting company that specializes in museum design and historical films. “How do we preserve the story of the Holocaust but also speak in general to the issues of genocide and tolerance?”

Berenbaum said that as the number of survivors continues to decline it becomes increasingly important to consider how Shoah education will need to adapt to a world in which the horrors of the concentration camps pass from living memory into historical record.

“It’s about ordinary people who lived through the most extraordinary times, which places a good burden on us as to how we’re going to use this material educationally and in our work in the future,” he said.

Berenbaum said the question is a challenging one but those who take it on will find themselves helped greatly by the subject’s extensive documentation. In stark contrast to other historical events, such as slavery in the Americas where firsthand recorded accounts number in the dozens, more than 70,000 audio and video testimonies are available from survivors of the Holocaust.

“No generation has left a greater record of its past,” he said. “One of the great advantages that we have is the video technology came into being in an inexpensive way precisely as survivors were set to tell their story.”

Holocaust survivors have already done their part in documenting their lives and experiences. Now, the challenge is for their inheritors to find creative solutions to keep those stories alive, noted Berenbaum.

“I’m optimistic provided that we have the imagination to deal with it,” he said. “The issue is not them, but us. They have made a spectacular contribution to preserving memory and consequently have given us the opportunity. The question is how do we do that?”

For more information on the HMLC’s upcoming anniversary dinner, contact Jean Cavender at 314-442-3715 or log on to