Florida Holocaust Museum: A Bit of WWII History in Downtown St. Pete

My history museum is on the Florida Holocaust Museum.  I do not have pictures to accompany this report, but I don’t think it needs them anyway.

Florida Holocaust Museum

55 5th St South

St. Petersburg, FL 33701

Location

The Florida Holocaust Museum is located in downtown St. Petersburg on the corner of First Avenue South and 5th Street.  It is one of many attractions in the downtown area.  Mirror Lake, Tropicana Field, The Dali Museum, the St. Pete Museum of History, The Vinoy, the historic open air post office, and the Morean Arts Center, as well as the Center’s Chilhuly Exhibit, are all nearby. The FHM and several of the other nearby attractions can be accessed by taking the Trolley, or Looper, which gives the rider a great tour of the downtown area and the driver points out all points of interest, and at 50 cents a ride, you can’t beat the tour it gives!  This

Website

http://www.flholocaustmuseum.org/

The website has an “In the News” section, a link to information on the featured exhibition, and links to resources for visitors and teachers on its home page.  It also has a navigation bar/tabs a across the top which will take visitors to information on their exhibits and collections, their tours and educational trunks, education resources for students and teachers, museum events, a membership tab with how to join, a tab that gives directions, a shop tab, and finally and about tab.  There are a lot of resources on the website that supplement the collections and exhibits at the museum including a history of the museum and the ability to search the museum library catalog.

Partnerships

From their website: “We work collaboratively with other Museums, and organizations such as Yad Vashem, Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Association of Holocaust Organizations, University of South Florida, University of Tampa and Eckerd College, the Anti-Defamation League, and many others. We also provide presentations at state, national and international conferences.”

Other partnerships listed under Educational Partners are: Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, Carl Wilkens, Task Force on Holocaust Information, and Sally Becker – “The Angel of Mostar”.  I also noticed that USF students are admitted to the museum for free and are allowed to check out resources from the museum’s library.  Despite the partnerships also listing The University of Tampa and Eckerd College, this privilege does not extend their students.  They receive a college student discount with a school ID, but cannot check out library materials.  I found this odd, especially since I am a UT alumnus, given that they are both listed as educational partners.  I’ve come across this before, where USF students are admitted for free, but UT students are not.

Accreditation Status

According to a pamphlet I picked up on Education and Group Tours, the museum is accredited by the American Association of Museums.

Publications

I did not find any publications except a few informational pamphlets available at the door on membership and education and school tours.

Adult Life Long Learning

It appears to me, that most of the student resources are for K-12 students.  The website says that they work to educate students about the Holocaust.  I did not find anything forbidding the public from visiting and utilizing the library resources, however only USF students and museum members can check out materials and take then home.  I did not find any programs specific to adult lifelong learning.

Connection with Libraries      

As I mentioned above, the museum has its own library.  They are partnered with the USF Tampa library.

Cultural Heritage

The museum website states that:  “The Florida Holocaust Museum honors the memory of millions of innocent men, women and children who suffered or died in the Holocaust.  The Museum is dedicated to teaching the members of all races and cultures the inherent worth and dignity of human life in order to prevent future genocides.”   In this way, the museum preserves one of the worst periods in history so that every generation may learn from what happened.  They also preserve Jewish Heritage of the community since many members and artifacts were donated by survivors and their families that live locally.

Reactions and Observations

The collection was not what I was expecting.  I don’t know quite what I was expecting to see, but it wasn’t what I saw.  The history of Jewish persecution, timeline of Hitler’s rise to power, and other information were all things that I had learned in school.  I have also read and seen several books and movies set in this era on my own, so again, I knew a lot of the information presented already.  There were no horrific images that I could see.  There was one shot of men in the bunks of one of the camps that showed how skinny they were, but again, that was something I’ve seen at least once in school.  They only shot I remember seeing of any bodies was one the bodies of those who died en route to the camps piled in a coal car, but you could only see a little of the top of the pile.  These might impact children, but it did not affect me as much as it might have had I not seen images of dead bodies and such from the camps in the past.

The exhibit that I did not know anything about was the temporary exhibit on the second floor titled Courage and Compassion: The Legacy of the Bielski Brothers which is on display until September 30th.  The brothers Tuvia, Asael, and Zus Bielski refused to become victims and chose to fight back during the Nazi occupation of Belarus.  Together with their families and over 1,200 other Jews they hid in the forests of Belarus were they survived the war.  The website’s description of the exhibit is:  “The exhibition outlines the rescue of thousands of Jews from the surrounding area and ghettos, the story of the longest escape tunnel ever built, the group’s establishment of a small community in the forest, and their courageous acts of sabotage against the Nazis.”  Their story is chronicled in the 2008 movie Defiance starring Daniel Craig which I now plan to see.  This exhibit impressed me with the strength and perseverance these people possessed.  Their courage is indeed admirable.  The exhibit of this family helps reinforce Kyvig and Mary’s statement that “A history of the American Revolution, World War II, or the Iraq War may give an excellent picture of the general issues and overall pattern of the developing conflict without revealing anything about what a particular community, family, or individual experienced at the time.”  This exhibit helps tell the story of the Bielski family, the community they helped to create, and their experiences during the war in a part of the world not typically discussed in connection with WWII.

The most impactful item on display, however, was the boxcar imported from Poland.  It is one of the few remaining cars used by the Nazis.  Boxcar #113 069-5 is placed on a piece of track taken from Treblinka Killing Center.  While cleaning it, the museum employees found a small, silver children’s ring that is on display.  The information accompanying the boxcar stated that they were used in WWI to transport either 8 horses (the Calvary was still utilized then), or 40 men.  The Nazi’s crammed up to 120 people inside.  This perspective made a normally large piece looks small.  Standing in front of it, it really made one feel small and it saddened me to know just how many people had been crammed in one like sardines.  I found myself hugging myself close.  This piece affected me more than the rest of the exhibit.

I have two criticisms; one is that that it was hard to listen to the audio tour.  I found it easier to read the display info and listen to the audio when I wanted more info, but the audio was more or less a restatement of the displayed info in my opinion.  This is not good.  I think they should complement one another.  The second is that the displays where hard to read due to the position of the lighting.  The displays had plexiglass on top of them and the lights shined down glaring off of them and at times making it hard to find a good angle to read them at.  The lighting was harsh and bright and I think a more subtle soft glow would have been better suited to the displays

All in all, it is an important museum to visit for young people studying the atrocities of the Holocaust.  The resources in the library are also an asset to the community and students of all ages studying the events surrounding the Holocaust.

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