Museum sought World War II exhibit years ago
Updated: March 24, 2012 8:11AM
When Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center leaders first wanted to bring “Ours To Fight For: American Jews in the Second World War” to Skokie, there were a couple of challenges.
There was no museum here yet. And the exhibition was not made for a road trip.
“It was not initially designed or constructed to travel,” Museum Executive Director Rick Hirschhaut said. “We wish it could travel but we were told at the time it was not a traveling exhibit.”
The Illinois Holocaust Museum team was visiting New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, as it had visited many other museums, on a fact-finding mission. Their travel was all about preparing for the opening of the museum in Skokie.
Hirschhaut said that when he experienced the exhibition in 2004, it was powerful and he and his team knew it would be right for the Illinois Holocaust Museum.
“This exhibit aligns with our mission and speaks to our audience in different ways,” he said. “On a very basic level, for American Jewish young men and women in the 1940s to become part of the United States Armed Forces was in itself an exercise in acculturation and integration for them and for the entirety of the Armed Forces.”
The exhibition has exceeded expectations ever since it opened. It was supposed to be on display at the Museum of Jewish Heritage only for months rather than the three years it existed there.
It became a touring exhibition when it wasn’t designed to do so in large part because of the demand. Exhibition curator Louis D. Levine then helped pare it down to about 50 percent of its original size, no small feat, while successfully maintaining the power of the original.
Levine and his team decided what artifacts were to be included in the touring version; Illinois Holocaust Museum Chief Curator of Collections and Exhibitions Arielle Weininger had 3,500 available square feet on the museum’s basement floor to then realize the plan.
“It’s about figuring out how to tell this story in the space that we have,” Weininger said. “It can be a challenge. It has to be in a certain order so we sit down and figure out how to make all the puzzle pieces work in the way they were intended.”
Weininger said that World War II in the permanent exhibition upstairs is told through the prism of the Holocaust, but the museum does not display as much information about the war as a whole.
“I think this exhibition is valuable because it rounds out the story of what’s told upstairs,” she said. “It’s a nice compliment to what we have.”
“Ours To Fight For” will run through June 17 at the Illinois Holocaust Museum, the third and final stop for the award-winning traveling exhibition. This display, however, marks the exhibition’s Midwest debut.
The exhibition is on display for free with a paid ticket to the museum at 9603 Woods Drive, Skokie. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Some special programs complimenting the exhibition are also planned during the run. For more information, access www.ilholocaustmuseum.org.