"Are there bones here?" was the first
question asked by a student of our docent, Lana Lake. We were in the lobby of
the Illinois Museum & Holocaust Education Center in Skokie in the spring.
The student was part of a group of teens brought there by the Lawndale Christian
Development Center (LCDC).
"This trip is the first of its kind, and will
enable our youth to make the connections between the history of their school and
the similar struggles faced by Jews and African Americans to overcome
oppression, injustice and violence," said Stacey Flint, LCDC's associate
executive director. The trip was sponsored by Rachel Cowen, a partner at DLA
LCDC was established in 1987 by Lawndale Community Church.
The students themselves attend The Lawndale Community Academy, formerly the
Jewish People's Institute. "The Institute," Flint explained, "was perhaps the
central cultural center of North Lawndale during the first half of the 20th
century. The building provided classes and recreation for adults and children.
The Commission on Chicago Landmarks suggests that the designer, Adler
Planetarium architect Ernest A. Grunsfeld, Jr., gave the building, 'a
distinctive Byzantine-influenced exterior, visually interpreting the
Middle-Eastern origins of Judaism.'"
To the student's question about
bones, Lake responded that it was a different type of museum. Indeed, it is the
only one of its kind in the state. Designed by Jewish architect Stanley
Tigerman, its 2009 opening was keynoted by Bill Clinton and Elie Wiesel. The
building's dark half represents the descent into the ashes of the Shoah
(Holocaust), while the bright half symbolizes the ascent to freedom in America
and the nascent Israel.
One student named James had learned about the
Holocaust for the first time when he was in sixth grade, he said, from a social
studies book. His friend Malik has only heard about it last year. Tabitha heard
about it at home, both from her parents and, she said, "The History
Lake expertly pitched her presentation the students' level of
appreciation. She compared Jewish persecution under the Nuremberg Laws to a form
of bullying. To visualize the loss of six million Jews, Lake said, "Imagine all
of Chicago and its suburbs, empty." She also gave the students ample time to
explore the exhibits on their own.
They viewed exhibits on
shtetl life, anti-Semitic propaganda, eugenics, racial profiling, the
Berlin Olympics, Kristallnacht, and the ghetto. After we filed though a cattle
car used to haul Jews to the death camps, Lake then turned to the next phase of
the story-mass extermination.
Later, Lake spoke of those who recorded the
testimony of the survivors, Nazi hunters like Simon Wiesenthal, Aliyah Bet, and
the Eichmann trial. There also was an exhibit on the Nazi march in Skokie and
the protests of it, and the subsequent state legislation mandating Holocaust
Lake's conclusion to the students was that the greatest crime
was silence: "Be aware, make choices, get involved, and speak up," she urged
After the tour, we joined groups from other high schools to hear the
story of survivor Zev Rogalin. He gave details about life, and death, in the
ghettos and camps, and of his part in Israel's War of Independence. When the
WWII ended, he said, he was 19 years old and weighed 66 pounds; today, he is a
During the exhibit, one student approached me and asked
what must be the central question of the entire Holocaust: "Why did Hitler kill
the Jews?" As if we will ever know.
Museum& Education Center is a
partner in serving our community, supported by the Jewish United
Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan