ST. LOUIS • In April 2011, four teens attacked a 72-year-old Vietnamese immigrant and his wife as they walked home from a market in south St. Louis.
HOLOCAUST MUSEUM AND LEARNING CENTER
Hours: Monday-Thursday 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; Friday 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m.; Saturday Closed; Sunday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Address: Jewish Federation Kopolow Building, 12 Millstone Campus Drive, Creve Coeur area
Admission is free.
The man, Hoang Nguyen, died. The name “Knockout Game” stuck as similarly random and brutal crimes were reported around the city against elderly people and others who appeared vulnerable.
Those local attacks have a place in the roster of hate crimes highlighted in the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center’s new exhibit, “Change Begins with Me: Confronting Hate, Discrimination and Ethnic Conflict.”
The exhibit was three years in the making and will be permanent. It aims to demonstrate that the lessons of the Holocaust have not yet been learned by drawing parallels between the Holocaust and contemporary events.
The exhibit opened Thursday with a visit by 50 eighth-graders from St. Margaret Mary Alacoque from south St. Louis County.
Its centerpiece is a 65-inch touch screen that focuses on hate-fueled violence from the Holocaust, to genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia, to bullying at schools.
Jean Cavender, the museum’s director, said the exhibition encourages visitors to reflect inwardly and see what actions they can take to combat hate in their own lives.
“We want people to take action when they see social injustice occurring, and that can occur on the playground with bullying or can be something happening on the other side of the world,” Cavender said.
“We believe that if more people would have spoken up during the Holocaust, maybe the Holocaust wouldn’t have happened.”
Visitors need only to touch a screen to see a global map illuminated with hot spots of hate. That links to narratives, video testimonies, photographs and opportunities for further research.
The exhibit lets visitors zero in on specific cases, such as the torture and fatal beating of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student in Wyoming, and the murder of James Byrd Jr., an African-American man who was dragged to his death behind a pick-up truck by white supremacists in Texas.
New examples of hate and discrimination will be added as they arise.
The Holocaust Museum partnered on the project with Webster University, the Anti-Defamation League and a local program called Hatebrakers.
For Holocaust survivors Ben Fainer, 82, and George Spooner, 84, who speak to groups visiting the museum, the exhibition represents a way to curtail hate, discrimination and genocide in the future.
“If we don’t learn from history, history will repeat itself,” said Spooner.
Fainer, whose mother and siblings perished in death camps, said: “I tell the children to make sure that horror like this will never happen again.”
One wall of the exhibit is dedicated to the famous words of 20th century Pastor Martin Niemoller.
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist.
“Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”
After visitors leave, Cavender said, “we want people to extend the conversation, connecting the dots of the Holocaust to today’s world … Things didn’t just end in 1945.”
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