Before the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington or the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan, there was the Holocaust Museum and Study Center in Spring Valley. With its roots in the Rockland County Legislature, which launched the Rockland County Commission on the Holocaust in 1979, in 1988 the museum opened in a building belonging to Spring Valley’s public library.
Now, more than a quarter century later, the museum has a new home and a new name, and it is about to start building a larger exhibition with state-of-the-art interactive exhibits.
The new home is less than four miles away, at Rockland Community College. There the center will occupy a 6,000-square-foot floor of a library building. Last week, a hundred museum supporters took a tour of the soon-to-be-renovated space, before joining an audience of 500 for a Yom Hashoah lecture.
For the Holocaust Museum, the new home is about more than space.
The new partnership is “truly the fulfillment of a dream,” said Paul Galan, co-president of the museum’s board of trustees.
For years, the board had wanted to find a home in an educational institution. “We needed to broaden the scope of the work we were doing,” he said. “Eventually we were able to get the college and the county to consider our dream.
“The college has welcomed us with open arms. It’s been bending over backward to help us establish and settle in in the most incredible ways. Their hospitality is overwhelming.”
The campus location puts the museum in “a cultural and diverse hub of the county,” said Andrea Winograd, the museum’s executive director. “Think about the student body: 8,000 students of different races, religions, and creeds.”
Reflecting this broader scope, the museum is changing its name to the Holocaust Museum and Center for Tolerance and Education.
“We really look at genocide through the lens of the Holocaust,” Mr. Galan said. In the new expanded exhibition, “We are going to be dealing even more extensively with other forms of genocide, but defining the Holocaust as the greatest genocide of all.”
Mr. Galan is a Holocaust survivor – originally from Slovakia – and a retired filmmaker.
“I wanted to put my communication skills to communicating about the Holocaust,” he said.
And indeed, 18 interviews he filmed of survivors from Rockland and Bergen provide the core of an interactive exhibit, where visitors will be able to watch the testimony in short segments.
“Students who are interested in different subjects can touch on that and just learn about that subject,” Ms. Winograd said. “It’s quite a masterpiece.”
The planned exhibition will open with the question of “What is genocide” and present the Holocaust, and smaller genocides in places including Rwanda and Sudan. Visitors will walk along a timeline of the Holocaust, from the anti-Semitism that produced it through liberation. The display will link concepts from the Holocaust to their recurrence in other genocides. For example, a discussion of Nazi propaganda is followed by a discussion of propaganda’s role in the Cambodian genocide.
The renovations should begin within the next month or two, and are expected to last a year and a half. The museum will remain open meanwhile, and its educational programs will continue.