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St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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St. Louis Holocaust Museum celebrates one year anniversary

One year ago, St. Louis became a major hub of Holocaust awareness and education when the St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum opened. The 36,000-square-foot facility began welcoming visitors on Nov. 2, 2022, following a 2½-year, $21 million renovation and expansion. 

The newly expanded facility quickly became an important destination for Holocaust learning, with 5,000 visitors in its first 100 days. The museum is a vivid reminder of the cost of hate and intolerance. It also offers an important lesson to anyone about the power of resistance and how strength and resolve can preserve human dignity.

A carefully curated exhibit space that traces the history of the Holocaust has made the museum a must-see attraction for students of history, school groups and descendants of victims and survivors. The museum’s recognition in its first 12 months has been an affirmation of the goals set by its planners and staff, according to Carol Staenberg, board chair.

“The museum’s remarkable growth in its first year since reopening is incredible,” she said. “Our dedicated staff, volunteers, supporters and board have made it all possible. Our mission to educate future generations about the Holocaust remains crucial, especially in these challenging times, and we’re committed to doing so for decades to come.”

Incidents of antisemitism have increased dramatically in the United States following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, according to ADL tracking data. The FBI had already been tracking a significant increase in hate crimes. These disturbing statistics demonstrate why the Holocaust museum’s mission has never been more important. Supporting that effort is what stands out for the Feldman family (for whom the museum is named), said Gloria Feldman and her daughter, Cheryle Feldman Atkin.

Gloria Feldman (left) and Holocaust Museum Board Chair Carol Staenberg flank the museum’s new executive director, Myron Freedman. Photos: Bill Motchan

“We are extremely proud of the museum’s accomplishments during this first year as we have shared the stories of the survivors and the victims,” they said in a shared statement. “We have opened the eyes of the visitors who now know and understand the truth about the Holocaust. Hopefully, through this museum experience, we can become kinder and more respectful.”

The focal point of the museum is the permanent exhibition that highlights the history and lessons of the Holocaust through the voices of St. Louis survivors. It can be an emotional experience to view that area, according to Michael Samis, a museum volunteer.

“When I see visitors, they are very moved by the experience of going through the museum,” said Samis, a member of Congregation B’nai Amoona. “Some people are moved to tears. It’s a moving experience for people and it brings it to a much more personal level, even for those who have been to other Holocaust museums, because it’s told through the stories of St. Louis people, so it’s very personal for people and I think that has an effect on them. I recommend for visitors to have time to devote to experiencing it. The longer you give yourself, the more you’ll get out of it.”

Making an impact

One of the museum’s newer distinctive features is the Impact Lab, which opened in April. This section is separate from the permanent exhibition and provides a valuable experience. It uses the Holocaust as a case study to generate conversations about rejecting hatred and promoting understanding. The Impact Lab is interactive and staffed by volunteers who have special training to guide those conversations.

The lab is an ideal venue for any organization focused on diversity, equity and inclusion. Like the entire museum, it can help educators of grade 5 through 12 students generate important conversations about tolerance and inspiring change. The lab leads visitors through a program that explores the “spiral of hate” where stereotyping leads to prejudice, then discrimination, violence and ultimately genocide.

Explore St. Louis, the organization that markets St. Louis as a travel destination, was one recent visitor to the lab. Another was a group invited by Rev. Rodrick Burton, a museum board member and senior pastor of the New Northside Missionary Baptist Church.

“As African Americans, we usually view issues in a myopic way with our own experiences,” Burton said. “I wanted our younger people to know what happened to the Jewish community and others. The Impact Lab is a good doorway to the history of the Holocaust. The great thing about the lab is it offers ways of thinking about how you can intervene. The interactive nature of the impact lab is what young people really need and will respond to.”

The St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum holds weekly Impact Lab sessions on Saturdays at 2 p.m. Reservations can be made at stlholocaustmuseum.org. 

| RELATED: Who is Carl Lutz, namesake of Holocaust Museum’s new humanitarian award?

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About the Contributor
Bill Motchan, writer/photographer
Bill worked in corporate communications for AT&T for 28 years. He is a former columnist for St. Louis Magazine. Bill has been a contributing writer for the Jewish Light since 2015 and is a three-time winner of the Rockower Award for excellence in Jewish Journalism. He also is a staff writer for the travel magazine Show-Me Missouri. Bill grew up in University City. He now lives in Olivette with his wife and cat, Hobbes. He is an avid golfer and a fan of live music. He has attended the New Orleans Jazzfest 10 times and he has seen Jimmy Buffett in concert more t han 30 times between 1985 and 2023.