To Main Page  

On the first floor of the Tampa Bay Holocaust Memorial Museum and Educational Center, a wall of family photographs confront visitors.
(Times photo / Cherie Diez)
Lessons of Holocaust touch people of all ages at center


©St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 1998

ST. PETERSBURG -- Giggles and the shriek of kazoos from a generation still innocent helped lighten somber surroundings Sunday.

It was family day at the Tampa Bay Holocaust Memorial Museum and Educational Center, the first full day since the center reopened at new, larger facilities downtown.

People were waiting for the doors to open at noon, said director Steve Goldman, who estimated that 1,000 visitors went through Sunday.

"It was wonderful," he said. "Things worked well. We got the crowds through. This is the first time we have seen our core exhibit with traffic through it. It exceeded all our expectations."

Yet, behind the day's storytelling and puppetmaking, sing-alongs and dance, serious lessons were learned by children and adults.

James E. Tokely Sr., Tampa's first poet laureate and an African-American, spoke of the Holocaust in universal terms.

"The horror of the Jewish Holocaust is a lesson for all of us to learn," he said. "We must learn how to say shalom and mean it."

He and storyteller Windell Campbell drew parallels between the African-American experience and that of the Jewish community.

"I have decided to read some poetry not for your Holocaust," Tokely told the audience on the center's third floor, "but for my Holocaust."

He recited a poem about black soldiers liberating Buchenwald, one of the Nazi death camps. While horrified by the white men who looked like skeletons with "eyes like craters in their heads," Tokely read, the black soldiers recognized the similarity between the persecutors of the Jews and their own persecutors, the white-robed Klansmen, back home.

On the first floor, parents with children in town studied the center's permanent exhibits.

Canadians Bonita and Norman Hughes said they thought the center would provide important lessons for their two boys and four girls.

"It gives them a different outlook on life, if they see what man can do to one another," Bonita Hughes said.

"We know that the reason why people go around hurting each other is because they think they are better," her husband said.

Another parent, Lance Benton, said, "I actually see this as being part of a two-part exercise."

Benton, visiting the center with his wife, Theresa, and children, Austin and Lucienne, plans to follow up by discussing current events showing that brutality and intolerance continue around the world.

"This (center) is the first step in preventing it," he said. "This puts a human face on it."

Lucienne, a student at Safety Harbor Middle School, added, "I think that people like Hitler and people who were killing off the Jews didn't stop to think. They just didn't care. They were just sick people."

Under a green-and-white-striped tent, children illustrated the lessons they learned Sunday by drawing pictures on squares of unbleached muslin. Joined together, the squares will form a quilt that will be displayed on the center's third floor.

Arranged on the ground, the creations included a broad smiley face, a rainbow, the squiggles of a toddler and an Israeli flag.

Dotted with dozens of hearts, a square by Ashley Adams proclaimed, "Never Again."


©Copyright 1998, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.