In 1933, the Nazi party assumed power in Germany, and with Adolf Hitler as chancellor, set up the first concentration camp at Dachau, burned books, and formed the Gestapo; this was 80 years ago, almost to the day.
In 1939, Walter Loebenberg escaped Nazi Germany, making his way to the United States where he served in the US Army during WWII and ultimately settled in St. Pete. Together with his wife, also a Holocaust survivor, and a group of other businessmen and community leaders, Loebenberg created a living memorial to those who suffered and perished with the goal to ensure such atrocities could never happen again. He managed to acquire a boxcar from Poland that was once used to transport people to concentration camps, and used it as museum space. In 1992, with just one staff member and a group of dedicated volunteers, the Bay Area monument quickly surpassed expectations and outgrew its space.
Today, the Florida Holocaust Museum is one of the largest such museums in the nation, and has touched lives beyond those who have visited its 27,000 square foot premises: In 1994, the Museum played a critical role in shaping legislation that made Florida one of the first states in the nation to mandate Holocaust education in public schools, and has been instrumental in the development of grade-appropriate curriculum.
This week, the Museum earned a new benchmark in its mission to teach children about the “inherent worth and dignity of human life”: the awarding of record-level state funding for its programming, curricula, and the digital preservation of testimony by Holocaust survivors and liberators.
Loebenberg, Board of Directors Chairman Marty Borell, and Executive Director Elizabeth Gelman praised Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature for appropriating and approving the funds, summing nearly $1,00,000.
“The Florida Holocaust Museum has undertaken this preservation project to both honor the memory of millions of innocent men, women and children who suffered or died in the Holocaust, and to ensure that similar atrocities never occur,” Gelman wrote, giving special thanks to Speaker Will Weatherford; Representatives Ed Hooper and Erik Fresen; Senators Jack Latvala, Bill Galvano Jeff Brandes, and Maria Sachs; and CFO Jeff Atwater.
“By making its educational resources and survivor and liberator stories available to Florida’s citizens,” Gelman continued, “the Florida Holocaust Museum and State of Florida continue to lead the nation in providing Holocaust and Human Rights education in the hopes of creating a better future for all.”