CINCINNATI (AP) — Her parents never spoke about it. And Lilly Kurtz’s only memory from that time?
It’s of her mother spreading garlic on bread.
She was a toddler then and she ate that bread as she traveled on a boat from war-ravaged Germany, the horrors of the Holocaust that had just taken the lives of most of the people who shared her last name.
She doesn’t remember the train that later took her to Cincinnati, the city that’s been her home ever since. She doesn’t remember walking through the rotunda at Union Terminal with her parents, the first steps of their new life here.
But as an adult, Kurtz learned her own history as the child of Holocaust survivors. She knows that others must remember her story — and others like it.
That’s why she’s been involved in the Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust and Humanity Center. That’s why she spoke during a tour of the center’s new space in Union Terminal.
The museum space is set to open Jan. 27.
In 2000, several hundred Holocaust survivors who relocated here founded the center as a support group. But it evolved to focus on education.
The center’s next chapter will feature new exhibits, as well as archival space for artifacts and library space.
Sarah Weiss, executive director, led us through the in-construction space Monday morning.
Here were our big takeaways:
According to Weiss, the Holocaust and humanity center is the only one of its kind in the United States that has what they are calling an “authentic connection to its physical site.”
So, what does that mean exactly? For many Holocaust survivors who resettled here, Union Terminal was their first impression of their new hometown.
That historical significance inspired Weiss.
One of the gallery spaces features windows that look directly out at the train tracks. (It’s still an active yard.)
She decided to create a train car installation that will examine what it was like to board a train to an unknown destination. For millions, trains took them to their deaths at concentration camps. A small window in the installation will frame the train tracks outside.
You’ll be greeted by World War II soldiers and Holocaust survivors sculptures in the Union Terminal rotunda.
These pieces will also start the conversation. The installation will include documents from the center, as well as the history collection at the Cincinnati Museum Center. These photographs, forms and other records will be a part of the sculptures and will also be on the stairs down to the center on the mezzanine and lower levels of the former train station.
You’ll notice another striking installation at the bottom of those stairs. They’ve reinstalled one of the Winold Reiss mosaic murals that was once a part of the Union Terminal concourse. It’s of a passenger train.
The lobby, however, is defined by new artwork.
Officials commissioned work from local artist Keith Neltner. His dynamic mural features 25 vignettes of local survivor stories. Each story is a snapshot told in graphic novel style.
Neltner’s detailed, emotional work sets the tone for the rest of the 7,500 square feet of exhibitions. You’ll get to see and listen to some of the survivors featured in Neltner’s illustration in a video in the first theater.
Survivors tell their stories, in their own words, throughout the exhibit, actually. One wall features quotes from these Cincinnatians.
And we will get to see the record of the lives through photographs. One section focuses on the diversity of Jewish life in Europe prior to the war. That will look like framed photographs of weddings and other family gatherings, milestones like school, too.
Many of the exhibits are interactive.
For example, you will be able to look through a wall built to look like the Warsaw ghetto. Videos will show what life was like here and in other brutal ghettos where Nazis confined and segregated Jewish communities.
In the final section of the center, multimedia kiosks will highlight different social issues, ideas and champions that the overall experiences addresses, from finding home to civil rights to responding to genocide.
“We’re learning, we’re engaging and we are also reflecting in what we can do today and we can do tomorrow,” Weiss said.