Written on the carpet, the phrase "are you an upstander?" greets visitors as they enter the youth exhibition at the new Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie. An "upstander" is someone who steps forward to correct injustices, says Richard Hirschhaut, project and executive director at the IHMEC, and that’s the type of people the museum would like to help create.
Scheduled to open April 19, the museum and education center will be the largest, most comprehensive Holocaust museum in the Midwest, not to mention one of the most technologically advanced. Its permanent youth exhibition will use digital technologies to teach lessons from the Holocaust for kids age 9-11.
Features from the youth exhibition include an interactive, virtual reality space where kids can use avatars to work together toward a goal, a global community theater for programming that encourages character development and a digital library of testimonials from survivors who were children or young teens during the Holocaust. At a self-portrait kiosk, kids can take a picture of themselves and decorate it with symbols of positive character traits using interactive software.
Activities for kids teach empowerment to stand up for what’s right and that an individual’s choices can make a difference, Hirschhaut says.
"The entirety of the experience is really about character education and character development, anchored by the themes arising from the Holocaust of overcoming hate, standing up to bigotry, helping those in need," Hirschhaut says.
The IHMEC is dedicated to encouraging activism and prevention of human rights violations in future generations. "We’re building a museum that has to thrive once the survivors, the eyewitnesses to this horrible tragedy, are no longer among us," Hirschhaut says. "We continue to confront the challenge of genocide in our time, and we each have a role to play to prevent and to intervene in issues of genocide in our world today."
Starting June 1, the museum and education center will offer scheduled tours for school groups and organizations.
The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center
9603 Woods Drive, Skokie