Illinois Holocaust Museum Blogs | Methodist College

Illinois Holocaust Museum Student Blogs

For several years, Methodist College Professor Octavia Gabor, PhD, has taken students registered in HST 301: Suffering and Forgiveness: The Holocaust and the Communist Persecution to Skokie, IL, to visit the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. An assignment for the students is to write about their experiences and reflections and post them to a blog.

Holocaust Museum 2016

Holocaust Museum 2015

(Photos taken by Amy Svob)

Alison Burris

On January 31, 2015, Dr. Gabor took his Suffering and Forgiveness class to the Holocaust Museum in Skokie, Illinois.  As students approached the building, I heard many make comments about the unique structure and modern appearance.   This interest continued inside, where dim lights and exposed support beams set a somber and unfinished tone.  In an intimate setting below the museum, we were greeted by Mrs. Magda Brown, a Holocaust survivor who shared her unfathomable story. 

As Mrs. Brown spoke, I could not help but wonder how she maintained her composure while speaking about such horrific events.  The brief synopsis of her time in the ghetto and concentration camp was difficult to listen to. I found myself holding back tears when she spoke of losing both her parents so abruptly.  It was apparent that she has shared her story several times because of the way she transitioned from memories to lessons for us and back so smoothly.  When she finished speaking, she asked us if we had questions for her and I remember thinking to myself that I had so many questions but no idea how to ask them.  Instead, I let her words sink in and analyzed them further.  From here, we were dismissed to explore the rest of the museum, which was especially emotional after experiencing such personal testimony moments before.

Growing up in a family full of history lovers, I have spent quite some time researching the Holocaust and even visited the National Holocaust Museum, but today was special for me.  It was such an extraordinary opportunity to meet with Mrs. Brown and hear her firsthand account of the event which has only been a piece of history to me before.  She taught me lessons in our brief encounter that no history book or lecture ever could.  Her words brought out emotions and evoked deep considerations when thinking about love, hatred, and forgiveness.  I am thankful to have been a part of this experience and have gained a new perspective on not only the Holocaust, but relationships and life itself.


Jodi Stumbaugh

On Saturday January 31 2015, classmates and I were taken to the Holocaust Museum in Skokie, IL. Leaving for the trip I expected the familiar feeling I have experienced when learning about the Holocaust. However, nothing could prepare me for the overwhelming sadness I would feel by simply walking into the museum. It seemed as if the entire museum was designed to make the audience feel vulnerable. Details such as the architecture, the lighting, and even the temperature were factors that led to the depth of my despair I had felt when observing the exhibit. My eyes were glued to the exhibit's articles which were hung on the walls along with images of the brutality the Holocaust prisoners endured. The exhibit was set up like a maze, zigzagging in every direction with more information than my mind could bear to consume. There were benches periodically placed around corners placed in front of televisions, presenting videos of Holocaust survivors and their stories. These videos were what affected me the most throughout my visit. It was heart wrenching to hear the stories of the survivors, and I couldn't help but put myself in their shoes. I think it is human nature that in order to understand something, we have to be able to relate to it. I hope to never experience something as horrendous as the Holocaust. However, in order for me to understand these survivors and their experience, I had to put myself in the same situation. There is no possible way to fully comprehend the depth of despair that these poor souls had to endure, but the sadness that took over my body was almost unbearable. The way that an innocent human being is stripped of all dignity and life was disgusting to me.

Before I entered the exhibit of the Holocaust, Mrs. Magda Brown (a Holocaust survivor), had spoken with us about her experience at one of the camps called Birkenau. Never before hearing a Holocaust survivor share their story, I was not sure what to expect. As she was talking all I could do was look in her eyes; I was not sure why this was so important to me. Mrs. Brown stated at one point in her speech that herself along with all prisoners were "dehumanized". From the minute she arrived at the camp she was treated as an animal. The strength and courage that Mrs. Brown possesses is immeasurable. Being an audience member for Mrs. Magda Brown and her story of surviving the Holocaust was honestly a once in a lifetime experience. I believe that the Holocaust is a vital part of our history and needs to be remembered. After all, Mrs. Brown stated "Remember the past, to restore the future."

Lilianne Voelker

The Skokie Holocaust Museum impacted me more than I ever thought it would be able to. Unlike the other students, I was able to hear Magda Brown speak when I was around the age of 11. She came to my school and told the entire student body of her tragic story. I thought since I had heard her speak before that I knew what was coming; boy was I wrong. I was much more overwhelmed than I was hearing her story the first time. The combination of being in such close proximity with her, in a room of 20 students, as well as having grown 10 years in maturity, really changed my understanding on how awful this event was.

 As Mrs. Magda Brown told us her story and what she went through much of what was going through my head is that I could never begin to imagine the awful things she and so many others endured. But what I do now know about Mrs. Magda Brown is that she is filled with selflessness and she is one of the bravest people I have ever met. She was willing to sacrifice her ability to sit down for three days, so her parents could sit down instead, in their cramped box car on their way to the concentration camp. This woman put herself before others at a young age when most people are as selfish as ever and I find that truly inspiring.

On top of her willingness to put others before herself she showed her bravery and will to live in the day that she escaped. She knew she would soon face death in the camps and she knew the consequences of being caught trying to escape, but she went for it anyway, knowing she there was some chance she could survive. I can't say that I would have been as brave as her in this moment. Risking the awful execution that surely would have followed, had she and the others been caught.

Even though she endured so much tragedy in her life, she spoke to us and treated us with such kindness. She seemed to be a truly happy being, and that too shows her amazing character as a person. After speaking with Magda we had the opportunity to go through the museum. The entire set up and structure in the building seemed to reflect what an awful event in history this was. I found myself staring at certain exhibits, completely dumbfounded at the idea of what happened. Walking inside the box car I just stood in silence for a couple minutes. I felt that even in my head there was silence. I couldn't put together any words or ideas of what that would have been like, and that wasn't even the worst of what she, and everyone else affected, faced.

There were a few more exhibits where I found myself stuck and unable to move on. One was an exhibit featuring some live footage, filmed by the Germans, of several executions of these innocent people. The other was made up of several interviews of survivors, explaining their feelings of what they went through. You could see their pain as they were reliving their moments of terror and hurt, but they continued to tell their stories.

At the end of the maze of exhibits I came across a wall that had a quote on it that I felt pulled together everything I saw, heard and read that day. The quote reads "I have told you this story not to weaken you, but to strengthen you. Now it is up to you."  I take from this that I need to be aware of what is going on in my life, my country and my world. I cannot limit my cares and worries to my everyday events, but I must keep my eyes open and keep myself aware of events happening everywhere. I need to stick up for my beliefs and help protect myself and others from ever being affected by an event as tragic as this.

Because of this trip, I hope to look at life differently. I hope to make impacts on other people's lives, as Magda Brown has on mine. And I hope that at no time and place in the future our world faces a tragic event that takes the lives of millions of innocent people, because we have learned from the past, and we are stronger now because of it.

Nicholas Lara

During the experience at the Skokie Holocaust Museum, there were two things that made the Holocaust more real to me than ever before. The first is we met a woman by the name of Mrs. Magda Brown. Her story changed the way I look at the Holocaust because of the way she told things as they were. She did not come with anything fancy to present with, just a few simple items and herself.

She spoke of the events leading up to the tragedy beginning with the loss of freedom to the eventual removal from cities into the concentration camps. They were no longer treated as humans, but were housed with strangers, had no choice but to share possessions, and herded like cattle, but treated much worse, onto trains for days. Its unimaginable to think of standing for days packed in tightly in a dark train car with no food, no water, and only a bucket for eighty people to use as a toilet in the middle of summer.

The story continued with the arrival and treatment into the concentration camps. The remaining bits of humanity and identity were nearly stripped away through the shaving of hair, removal of all personal possessions, and the selective murders of those seen as not useful. During our time walking through the museum, the eye opening video was one that showed a deep trench dug. Men would march in about fifteen at a time. With SS guards standing on the top of the trench one way, the men turned away leaning against the opposite wall.  The guards then shot them, watched them fall over, and they kicked dirt over them. After this they had the next line of men march in and it happened again until the trench was full. We hear about the gas chambers, and the many other ways people were murdered, but to see this on film was different. This was not something you can hear about or see in a Hollywood film, think is awful, then move along with your day. These were real lives ending with do dignity and no respect.

We were left with a message that was not condemning or hateful or even self-pity. Her desire was to make us aware of the world around us. Genocide is still very real today, but without the desire to look beyond our own comfortable life, we remain blind. It's the responsibility of each of us to be aware of the stripping of rights and the murder of innocent people.

Brenda Schierl

In 1984 I traveled to Europe and was able to tour Dachau. Last year I was fortunate enough to view and walk through the Washington DC Holocaust Museum.  On January 31 I was able to go to The Skokie Holocaust Museum with my peers.

Being middle aged has not only opened my raw emotions of insensitivity towards the Jewish community, but also the unrealistic perception that this tragedy cannot nor will happen again.  It continues to happen over and over again.

Walking up to the museum I was stunned by the outside architecture.  It resembled a concentration camp.  I was overwhelmed with the uneasy feeling that I had at the pit of my stomach.  I also noted the lighting inside the museum.  The lights were dim which in a sense gave me the feeling of uneasiness and uncertainty of what I was to see.  To me the lighting set the tone for silence and reflection of what I was about to see.  Each wall that we went to had the year that events happened by the use of pictures, letters or film.    Some of the walls had faces looking back thru the frames.  It was almost as if they were pleading me to pay attention and learn.    As an onlooker, I could not fathom as to how anyone could go through such an event.  How did these poor souls keep their hopes up?  When did they realize this was the end?  To know that these individuals, whether it be adult or child, had such trust at one point in their journey only to realize that the trust and promises were nothing but propaganda was humbling.    As I progressed further into the museum and the years, I noticed that the lights continued to get darker.  It was if they were  warning me and preparing me for the pictures and images to come. I was humbled how all of these individuals that were staring at me from the walls were portraying the same voice, "don't let history repeat."  As the war exhibit in the museum progressed, the lighting became darker.  Maybe this was how the soldiers and the Jews both felt at that time.

Observing people walking through the museum was very interesting, as well.  At the beginning of the museum people were conversing and discussing their thoughts amongst each other.  As I continued to press on I realized that there was very little discussion amongst groups.  People were silent.  I noted people shaking their heads, crying, touching a picture.  I even noted the tears in my eyes.  I came to realize that maybe the lighting was darker to make people reflect and remember such a dark time and place.  Once liberation took place, I noted that the lights in the museum became lighter.  People were talking again.  The analogy of the lighting and  different periods in the museum impacted my perception and attitudes about what I saw.   

When I first entered my mood was calm and somewhat hesitant to feel and experience this.  As the periods went on, I felt what these people were trying to portray through their eyes and pictures, and felt panic and fear.  The color of the lighting or lack of lighting was attached to emotions of what was I was feeling . It finally dawned on me that what had transpired within me that day during the tour of the museum was the  feeling of intimacy.  I realized that each picture or newspaper article was representing a person whom was trying to not only validate himself, but also emulate their feelings with what took place.  The strength that each one had to persevere was overwhelming for me. How could this happen?  How can we keep it from happening again?  

I was keenly aware at the end of the tour that I had so much admiration for the Jews.  They never gave up and they always tried to keep themselves true and pure.  I found that ironic since the reason the Jews were killed was because Hitler did not believe they were pure!  Even through the darkest of times they had their faith, and that was what they were trying to portray to me. I realized that the human heart is resilient.  That we are all survivors of some tragedy.  The true act of heroism is how you handle the situation after the event is over.  I noticed that the lighting was bright when the exhibit of the Jews coming to America showed such excitement!  It showed people who once had a death sentence now had college degrees, marriages, jobs, success.    It proved to me that justice does prevail.  It also drove home the point that we can never forget.  We must all take the initiative to stand up for what is right!   What true heroes the survivors all are.  What admiration and pride I felt for every one of them. I realized at the end of the tour that I did not feel sympathy for them any longer but rather Admiration, Honor and what the true meaning of a Genuine and Pure Soul is.