Southwest Florida's Holocaust museum to open soon in its first true home
When the doors to the Holocaust Museum & Cohen Education Center of Southwest Florida open in late August, they will be inviting visitors into a home.
After nearly 19 years in two other rented storefronts, the museum has bought the four-suite 6,000-square-foot north Collier County space it is finishing now.
And with that space has come opportunities:
- Striking, wall-filling graphics that offer memorable statistics and lifesize narrative photos
- Display space for more of the critical artifacts it has been bequeathed
- The opportunity to incorporate multimedia presentations. One is a "sound dome" area that will enable people to hear the inflammatory speeches of Third Reich leaders and see clips of its famous Leni Riefenstahl propaganda film, "Triumph of the Will." In other places, links to audio memoirs from Southwest Florida Holocaust survivors are in the planning stages
- A proximity to Lee County , where the museum is hoping to offer programs and tours to Lee County schools as well as continue them with Collier.
Last week Capitol Museum Services, a Manassas, Virginia, permanent exhibition developer, began installing cabinetry and fixing art to the walls. It was a touching moment, even for the contractors.
"It was emotional to come in and see these murals," said Ann Cemer, of PBS Contractors, who handled construction for the concrete-wood-and-stone interior.
"It means so much to be working on a building with a purpose, especially a cause like this, as opposed to just a commercial building. Everyone has really taken this one to heart."
Cody Rademacher, curator of the museum since 2015, has worked in its previous space in curatorial positions since 2012. He gives a professional, thorough, accommodating tour of the building, but when asked how he feels about the new space, he can't resist a little hop.
"It's incredible. It's amazing!" he declared.
That comes at the end of a tour in which poignant and discomforting pieces that have never been seen, or only seen on a rotating basis, are being encased for display. Among them is a 1938 letter by Romanian Jewish parents seeking asylum in the U.S. with their son, Stanley Faktor. The letter details a potentially lethal complication — that the sender was a native of Austria, but his hometown had become Polish territory.
No one has been able to find out whether the elder Faktor and his wife were able to make that early escape. And they only have the letters because the purchaser of the Faktor home in Naples found them in an attic after Sala Faktor's death.
There's a never-before-exhibited Hitler Nazi Youth uniform. Another artifact, a standard polizei shako — an officer's formal, cylindrical hat — bears the Nazi symbol, which had replaced state symbols on the medallions.
"Even things as mundane as a policeman's hat were affected — but the changes happened very quickly," Rademacher said.
He's most excited about the gallery that contains it, the first gallery, which describes pre-World War II life and the rise of the Third Reich. It is rife with unnerving propaganda, down to quoting Martin Luther as disliking Jews for their resistance to conversion.
"The gallery we had before was just a small corner," Rademacher said. The larger space allows them to detail more fully how stealthily and steadily the changes came to life in Germany for Jewish people.
The new museum quarters have around 33 percent more space and they will include a new historical segment: Post-war life for the Jews and genocides since the Holocaust.
"It's not something people know a lot about, but many Jews were in displaced persons camps after World War II," Rademacher said. The last camp, he said, wasn't closed until 1957, 12 years after the end of the war.
In the meantime, Jewish people faced new demons. The difficulties were twofold: They were trying to recover from severe malnutrition in the concentration camps. They also were living with Europeans who may have helped perpetrate the crimes against them, or who, as refugees under the post-war repartitions of countries, resented them.
As Rademacher talked, Sam Gault of Capitol Museum Services used nitrile-gloved hands to smooth down a standard refugee form. It's one of more than 8 million the United Nations High Commission on Refugees received after World War II.
That the museum isn't yet completed didn't make it less impressive to Janet G. Cohen, whose gift of $1 million was the lead for its $3.5 million capital campaign. Cohen came for a tour on Friday.
"The reaction it gives you is astounding," she said. "It's the little things they have there — there's a sweater worn by a child who was caught up in the Holocaust. That little sweater even gave me chills."
Cohen, is a native of Cincinnati, and her family wasn't directly affected during the Holocaust. As a teen growing up in Wilmington, Ohio, Cohen said she, and likely most other Americans, had no idea of how horrible the situation had become. That may have colored her determination to help tell the story now.
"I feel that it's so important that our country and our children and the world be aware of what was taking place."
What: Holocaust Museum & Cohen Education Center
Where: 975 Imperial Golf Course Blvd., Naples
When: The museum is not expected to open until late August; the date will be announced on its website; a grand opening is set for 3-5 p.m. Nov. 10
For more information: holocaustmuseumswfl.org or 239-263-9200