During this week many organizations focused on Holocaust Education Week, but Holocaust Education is the daily life work for South Florida’s Holocaust Documentation and Education Center.
For 36 years, I’ve been on the board of the HDEC and have been passionately involved in its mission to teach the lessons of the Holocaust and to never forget.
The problem is, sometimes we do forget. The HDEC strives to remind people about the dangers of hate, racism, bigotry and isolation. It makes education part of its name, because without educating ourselves, we stand no chance of making a change.
It runs Student Awareness Days that give high-school-aged children the opportunity to hear from Holocaust Survivors, and to learn about their experiences with tragedy and bravery. The HDEC features writers and art work and memorabilia. What happened during the Holocaust happened to an entire population. But when visitors read a letter, view a drawing, look at a short film or see a photograph, the universal becomes personal.
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The tales of the Holocaust are not just the survivors’ stories — they are all our stories. For years we have gathered the histories of survivors, as each year, their numbers dwindle. Now, their children are the keepers of the flame — but the HDEC and soon South Florida’s first Holocaust Museum will be able to keep those memories alive with powerful artifacts, including photographs, oral histories and even a Holocaust rail car, which took prisoners from the Warsaw ghetto to the Treblinka death camp. These objects paint a vivid picture of the horrors and the triumphs of the Holocaust.
Stories from the Holocaust are like stories from the Bible — we must live by them. We cannot hope to make a difference unless we live differently — without hate and prejudice.
Father Patrick O’Neill, founding board member, Holocaust Documentation & Education Center, Hollywood