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Major Renovation Planned for JHC Holocaust Museum at the Asper Campus

by Rhonda Spivak, October 11, 2021

The Jewish Heritage Centre (JHC) will be refurbishing the Holocaust museum (known as the Freeman Family Foundation Holocaust Education Centre) located at the Asper Campus  to bring it to current standards of best practices in museology and Holocaust education. The texts, artifacts, and displays will be redesigned and new technologies will be introduced to ensure a dynamic, multidimensional layering of information.

Belle Jarniewski, Executive Director of the  JHC has indicated that the JHC is " reaching out for funding to a number of sources in order to reach our goal" of refurbishing the Holocaust museum, and "we and have received both private and institutional donations."

The plan is for the  museum to have an interactive display such as the interactive table in the mass atrocities gallery of the CMHR. Jarniewski has pointed out that there are two main reasons  why having this technology is so important. "First, we are very limited in the space we have and technology will allow us to include so much more essential information. Second – we know that in order to engage young people today, technology such as an interactive table is important. Instead of passively walking around an exhibit – they will actively engage with the information."

The WJR asked  Jarniewski to detail all of the anticipated changes to the museum. She replied, "The space is limited and there is so much to include! The museum focuses on the experiences of our local survivors as well as the historical narrative. We will be adding a section on the rich and diverse life before the Holocaust, and are also planning a piece on the extraordinary contributions of the survivors to our community. In our narrative, we will be addressing historical antisemitism, including antisemitism in Canada. Rather than the current setup with cases dedicated to an individual survivor’s story, the plan is to include artefacts and photos throughout the museum– i.e. the survivor’s life prewar, interment in camps, hiding, etc., postwar – DP camps, immigration to Winnipeg, etc. We also want to include the testimonies of our survivors- some as recent as the summer of 2020."

 The JHC Holocaust museum  will use  videoed survivors’ testimony in the museum. As Jarniewski has outlined, " We have several “iterations” of testimony – the Shoah Foundation interviews we did here back in the 1980s, the interviews we did in partnership with the CMHR about 10 years ago, and in the Westwood Collegiate (Westwood Historical Society) interviews that were done in the summer of 2020. Today, our youngest survivors are in their 80s. We have lost so many of our precious first-person witnesses and it is becoming more and more difficult emotionally for them to speak about their experiences – it is triggering.  I have already begun telling students about my parents’ experiences and we have other “2nd Gens” who are stepping forward. Of course, it is important that presenters know how to speak to students and are knowledgeable about the latest recommendations on teaching this sensitive subject."

 When asked how many students pre-Covid would go through the museum in a year, Jarniewski replied "Pre COVID, we would have up to 1000 kids visit us. Some of the groups were so large (an entire school for instance) that we did presentations in the Berney Theatre followed by a visit to our museum. " Jarniewski also hopes that numbers will go up once the  space has been newly renovated. 

Jarniewski notes that students from both the city and rural Manitoba visit the museum. "Some students who visited us just before COVID hit lived three hours away!"

 Since Covid has hit, the museum is " doing virtual presentations." As Jarniewski details, " There are three modules – The Holocaust, Antisemitism, and Antisemitism in Canada. The virtual presentations allow for Q and A."   When asked how many virtual presentations have been made, Jarniewski responded, " It has been such a busy time for us that I have not kept track of numbers."

Jarniewski indicates that the average pre-Covid,  in person visits to the museum  by classes were " from one hour and a half to two hours." Since Covid has hit, Virtual presentations via Zoom are about an hour, "basically the teacher’s time with their class that day.

 When asked how many students come to the JHC Holocaust symposium yearly and whether the symposium could be done virtually, Jarniewski answered, "We were fortunate to hold our most recent symposium in March of 2020. We have welcomed up to 2000 students to our symposia. We have even had a group from across the border in North Dakota. The symposium would not “translate” to a virtual setting. There is something so important about all those students being together for the experience and having the opportunity to talk to the survivors. We are hoping to go ahead for March of 2022, but it all depends on the health restrictions."

 When asked whether the  CMHR has increased traffic to the JHC Holocaust Museum, Jarniewski explained "Yes, we have definitely seen an increase in visits to us since the CMHR opened –particularly from out-of-town schools who plan a full day in Winnipeg – for instance the morning at the CMHR and the afternoon with us."

On a final note,  Jarniewski adds, "We are really looking forward to this long-needed renovation. Museology and Holocaust education have both changed so much over the last two decades since our museum was first built and curated. We would be grateful for the support of donors and tax receipts are provided for all donations."

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.