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Construction begins on Holocaust Museum

Thursday, June 29, 2006
Skokie Review

Nearly 700 guests and speakers braved rain in Skokie last Thursday to witness an official start to the new Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.
The music-filled ceremony inspired tears and joy, Illinois Holocaust Foundation President Sam Harris said Monday.
"Everyone came away with great, great excitement" about the Stanley Tigerman-designed project, Harris said.
Skies cleared before the end of the ceremony, at which Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Israeli Consul General Barukh Binah spoke. Harris, museum campaign director J.B. Pritzker and Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen also addressed the audience.
As part of last week's sod-turning, organizers buried a milk can containing memories of about 30 Chicago-area Holocaust survivors on the site. That replicated an operation, code-named Oyneg Shabbos, or "Joy of Sabbath," by Polish Jews during World War II in which a group led by Emanuel Ringelblum buried three milk cans containing papers chronicling Jewish Life during the Holocaust in a Warsaw ghetto. Ringelblum was executed in 1944, but two of the cans were discovered years later.
Reuven Frankel, founding rabbi of Congregation B'nai Tikvah in Deerfield, sang an invocation for the ceremony. Victor Aitay, concertmaster emeritus for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, performed a violin piece, and the Soul Children of Chicago choir concluded the Thursday event.
Harris said actual construction on the $25 million project should start within two months. The 64,000-square-foot museum, at 9603 Woods Drive, just west of the Edens Expressway, near Golf Road, is scheduled to open in June 2008.
The new building will replace the foundation's current cramped 6,000 square-foot building on Main Street in Skokie. The new edifice will have roughly 43,000 square feet on a 2-acre site and will include exhibit space, classrooms and a 270-seat auditorium.
Conceived seven years ago, the museum was initially delayed by zoning issues and neighborhood complaints, before intense negotiations among Skokie, the Foundation, the state and Cook County culminated in the project moving to its current north Skokie site.
"Eventually, we claimed victory from the jaws of defeat," said Richard Hirschhaut, Foundation executive director and project director.
The state contributed $5 million, with the rest of the $25 million price tag coming from private donations, said Hirschhaut. Harris said this week that roughly $20 million in donations have been pledged to date, but Foundation officials hope to raise a total of $35 million (including the state grant), which will include a $10 million endowment.
Among artifacts scheduled to be displayed when the new building opens are a Torah scroll rescued from a burning synagogue on Kristallnacht, a forged ID card from a member of the Jewish Underground and a blanket used to hide a child smuggled out of a ghetto.
Other artifacts include:
•  Yellow star, required to be worn by all Jews.
•  Uniform worn by a concentration camp inmate.
•  Brick from a gas chamber at Auschwitz.
Foundation officials expect the new site to attract 132,000 student visitors annually, 110,000 more than the 22,000 who have visited the Main Street museum annually.
Harris said the museum's educational importance extends beyond children and students.
The reason for telling the Holocaust story is "as close as a Wisconsin farmer," said Hirschhaut, referring to Ted Junker, 87, who last month built a memorial to Hitler on his land near Millard, Wis. Junker has been quoted as calling the Holocaust "the biggest lie in the history of mankind."

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