Holocaust survivors worldwide were stunned when, in the 1970s, neo-Nazis declared their intention to march through Skokie, Illinois, a Chicago suburb with a thriving Jewish community. While these efforts were thwarted, Holocaust survivors realized the importance of telling their stories in spite of their hope of letting go of the past. Survivors in the Chicago area created the Holocaust Memorial Foundation of Illinois in a modest storefront in order to educate children about the dangers of hateful rhetoric and prejudice. By 2009, the organization had grown to encompass a 65,000-square-foot building, the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, a world-class center designed to inform the world about the genocide.
The museum’s main collection, the Zev and Shifra Karkomi Permanent Exhibition, includes 500 relics, ranging from documents that describe the conditions of Jews in the ghettos and concentration camps to a rail car that resembles those used by the Nazis to deport Jews. The exhibition also features stories from the post-war period, including the narratives of survivors who immigrated to Skokie, as well as a film that places the Holocaust in the context of other genocidal terror campaigns around the world. The Karkomi Permanent Exhibition forms the core of the museum’s educational programming, with numerous options for elementary and middle school field trips designed to help young people understand the importance of combating hate and prejudice, a mission that was further cemented through the museum’s Harvey L. Miller Family Youth Exhibition.
In addition to its permanent collection, the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center hosts a number of special exhibitions, such as the forthcoming Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933-1950, a comprehensive look at how Jews and other German immigrants fleeing from the Nazis transformed the American film industry. The organization has also been dedicated to its mission of educational advocacy and, as the Holocaust Memorial Foundation of Illinois, achieved numerous policy goals that included the establishment of Illinois laws mandating that public schools teach children about the Holocaust and other genocidal events.