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Never forget, Wiesel urges
as Holocaust museum opens


At the Holocaust Museum, Mildred Shaw of Treasure Island looks Saturday at a boxcar used to haul victims to Nazi slave-labor and extermination camps.

(Times photo: Brian Baer)

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE

©St. Petersburg Times, published February 22, 1998


ST. PETERSBURG -- Against a backdrop of 11 eternal flames, representing 11-million victims of the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel urged remembrance of the horrors some would rather ignore.

"Those who are willing to forget," he said, "may be considered accomplices of the enemy. . . . You must all remember that not all victims were Jews, but all Jews were victims."

Wiesel, 1986 Nobel laureate and a Holocaust survivor, spoke during Saturday evening's opening ceremonies for the Tampa Bay Holocaust Memorial Museum and Educational Center at 55 Fifth St. S.

"It was a period in history when civilization lost its humanity and humanity lost its soul," Wiesel said.

Upon leaving the museum, he said, visitors will "take many more questions with them."

Also participating in the program were Walter Loebenberg, founder and chairman of the center, Mayor David Fischer and center president Amy S. Epstein.

"What stands before you today is a testament to those who are unable to tell their own story but whose experiences will never be silenced," Epstein told the crowd that closed Fifth Street.

"I am not so idealistic to believe that this building, despite its powerful messages, will prevent future genocides. . . . Yet, by educating our children and their children and keeping our homes and our community free of intolerance, we can provide an example and a starting point to rid the world of these wrongs."

Wiping tears from her eyes, Katherine Ridenour of Tampa could barely find words to express her feelings as she toured the new center.

"It is just overwhelming," she said, "because there were so many people killed."

The mission of the center, say officials, is to teach tolerance so that such a tragedy will never again occur.

It is a mission strongly endorsed by Bun Hap Prak, a Cambodian refugee and member of the center's board of directors.

"Within a time frame of 50 years, we have seen it happen again," he said, referring to the brutal Khmer Rouge regime responsible for the deaths of an estimated 2-million to 3-million Cambodians.

In addition to its permanent ground-floor exhibits, the Holocaust center features galleries for Holocaust art and visiting exhibits as well as research and education facilities for students at all levels.

Retired St. Petersburg businessman and philanthropist Gus Stavros is pleased.

"I feel that St. Petersburg should be very proud of this Holocaust museum," he said. "It has so much in it that expresses man's inhumanity to man. It is really teaching people what happened and that it should not happen again."

Hours before its grand opening Saturday, four Jehovah's Witnesses, religious magazines held aloft, quietly proclaimed their faith near the center's triangular entrance. Of the 11-million men, women and children killed by the Nazis, 2,000 were Jehovah's Witnesses.
 

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