1st permanent Holocaust museum to be built in Phoenix

Nov 29, 2023, 4:35 AM | Updated: 6:01 am

PHOENIX — The Arizona Jewish Historical Society on Tuesday announced plans to build the first permanent Holocaust education center in Phoenix, along with a capital campaign to raise money for its construction.

Named the Hilton Family Holocaust Education Center, the museum will be an extension of AZJHS’s campus located near Central Avenue and McDowell Road. Construction is expected to be complete in 2026.

It will be a 27,000-square-foot building that features technology-based galleries with four main areas of focus: The Holocaust and the world today; chronology of the Holocaust; lessons on the Holocaust; and remembering the Holocaust from hate to hope.

It will also feature the artwork of Valley-based artist Robert Sutz with the “We Remember” project, as well as rotating exhibits that focus on other genocides from world history.

“This is going to be a state-of-the-art facility that can educate young people, but really everyone, about the Holocaust and genocide that’s occurred in other places in the world,” Phoenix Vice Mayor Yassamin Ansari said at an event announcing the new center.

How does the Holocaust center plan to educate?

The center will lean on the wisdom of Holocaust survivors who live in the Valley and use technology to let their stories still be told from the source after they die.

For example, survivor and Phoenix resident Oscar Knoblauch spends much of his own time in classrooms discussing the Holocaust, but when the center is complete, students will be able to converse with a holographic image of him instead.

AZJHS Executive Director Dr. Lawrence Bell explains it’s not “artificial intelligence” or computers talking, but the actual recorded stories of Knoblauch and other survivors.

“The generation of students that we have now … They’re the last generation of students that will ever meet a Holocaust survivor. The ones that come after them will never have the personal experience of saying ‘I met someone who was in the Holocaust,’” Bell said.

Why is Holocaust education important?

Bell said he feels that people could doubt the Holocaust ever happened if survivors don’t get the chance the continue sharing their experiences.

AZJHS also worries about an ongoing rise in extreme antisemitism. The organization says the answer to that is education and putting a face to the victims of hate and bigotry.

Education Coordinator Anthony Fusco Jr. hopes the center will become a resource for teachers across Arizona.

“Soon our history will be gone. So, it’s important to look for immersive technologies, artifacts … to help tell the stories [from] the primary source,” Fusco said.

Educators will be able to schedule field trips, guided tours, lectures and more from the center once it is completed. House Bill 2241, signed into law in 2021, requires schools to teach students about the Holocaust, at least once, in middle school or high school.

AZJHS adds that its centers are open to people of all faiths and backgrounds.

How was the center in Phoenix funded?

Ansari explained the recent Phoenix GO Bond and its part in the museum’s construction. Passed by voters in this year’s November election, the bond paid $2 million for this expansion out of a $50.3 million allocation earmarked for “Arts & Culture.”

The project also received monetary gifts from the Steven J. Hilton Foundation, which the center will be named in honor of. More fundraising info can be found online.

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1st permanent Holocaust museum to be built in Phoenix