Moving Ceremony Marks Opening of Room in Montreal Holocaust Museum

The hands groped toward the marble case, twisting around it, desperately seeking contact.

They then hugged one another, this small group of survivors, the tears flowing freely, the silence in the room almost deafening.

The Memorial Room of the new Montreal Holocaust Museum was dedicated Monday, and seven Holocaust survivors, the remaining members of the Association of Survivors of Nazi Oppression, had another task.

The ashes they had liberated from Auschwitz in 1979 were brought to this room and permanently installed atop a stone pillar, rescued from a Warsaw synagogue the Nazis had destroyed.

The Montreal Holocaust Museum, of the 24-year old Montreal Holocaust Memorial Center, has been five years in the planning.

Those years had their share of frustration, delays and politics as administrators, lay leaders, survivors and designers all had their say in building something befitting both the Montreal survivor community and those who perished during the Holocaust.

Montreal has the third largest survivor community in the world, after Israel and New York.

“This is not a celebration but a moment consecrated in time,” said the president of the Memorial Center, Marvin Tanner, addressing more than 500 survivors and benefactors who attended the event.

“We have diligently worked to ensure that this museum is reflective of the appropriate nuances of such a brutal and unspeakable period in human history,” Tanner said.

The museum will have its official inauguration Sunday in the presence of Quebec Premier Jean Charest, former premier Lucien Bouchard, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay.

Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel has taped a message for the event.

The museum, which will open to the public on June 30, cost $3.7 million to build, with 40 percent coming from government programs and 60 percent from individual and corporate sources.

It contains 418 artifacts, 372 photographs and 18 video stations. Some stations will show historic film footage, while others will show clips from 3,000 hours of eyewitness testimony culled from Montreal survivors.

The museum’s archival holdings contain 6,000 original artifacts, photos and documents.

The difference between this Holocaust museum and others is the local element, according to Yitzhak Mais, the museum’s curator and a world-renowned Holocaust authority.

“We took great pains to use the artifacts of Montreal survivors,” and “over 95 percent were locally donated,” said Mais, the permanent curator of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York and former curator of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

The artifacts tell the tale of life, even as the Holocaust robbed Jews of family, friends and dignity.

A doll, given to a young girl after her father found it in an abandoned Warsaw Ghetto apartment, stares from behind its glass enclosure.

A tiny heart-shaped book of signatures, painstakingly created in 1944 and given for her 20th birthday to Fania Fainer by 16 friends in a death camp, defiantly proclaims this woman’s survival.

A suitcase, shared by the Fishbein brothers as they arrived in Shanghai, a safe haven for Jews, is on display.

“Never again is a fine, bold phrase,” said incoming president Jack Dym, whose family bequeathed $738,000 to the museum in memory of his late father, Holocaust survivor Mike Dym. “But merely saying it does not make it so. This museum, through its main objective of education, will teach people that hatred in all its forms is the most dangerous evil of all.”

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