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After 13 Years of Uncertainty, Holocaust Museum to Rise in New York

August 24, 1994
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After 13 years of uncertainty, supporters of a Holocaust museum in New York have announced they will finally be able to start building the edifice this fall.

A Living Memorial to the Holocaust-Museum of Jewish Heritage will be located in Battery Park City in lower Manhattan and is slated to open in late 1996.

The museum, which will encompass the most tortured historical era of the Jewish people, will face the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, symbols of hope and welcome to those who successfully fled the tyranny that consumed 6 million Jews.

Under the terms of a lease signed last week, new financing that will cover half the $15 million expected construction cost will come from the Battery Park City Authority. Other funds will come from private contributions.

The new 99-year lease overrides a 99-year lease signed in September 1986. The new plans call for the leasing of a much smaller parcel of land than the one leased eight years ago.

The original plans fell through in large part because the museum was heavily dependent on supporters in the real estate industry, which suffered a severe downturn in the 1980s.

The museum was designed as a grey granite hexagon, the six points of the hexagon meant to symbolize the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust and to invoke the six-pointed Star of David.

The museum’s collection — about 13,000 artifacts amassed since plans for the museum began in 1981 — includes clothing worn by survivors after they were liberated. It also contains articles of infamy, such as a shoe insole the Nazis made from a desecrated Torah and an anti-Semitic children’s book with ugly caricatures of Jews.

The museum, which merged in 1989 with the Center for Holocaust Studies in Brooklyn founded by Professor Yaffa Eliach, has taped interviews of more than 3,000 Holocaust survivors.


“What we really want to do is expand the fulfillment of our mission to educate the public about modern Jewish history and the Holocaust,” said David Altshuler, director of the museum.

“While we have been able to do some programming out of a makeshift set of offices, we certainly look forward to the day in 1996 when our facility will open in Battery Park City, opposite the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and will be able to accommodate a half-million persons or more per year,” he added.

Asked why New York needs a Holocaust museum in addition to the well-received museum in Washington, Altshuler replied, “When I worked on the museum in Washington, people asked ‘why there?’ when there was already Yad Vashem (in Jerusalem).

“One day after Washington opened, nobody asked the question again,” he said.

New York is a logical site for a Holocaust museum, he said, because “New York is the home to the largest Jewish community in the world,” many Holocaust survivors and “one of the more culturally, religious and ethnically diverse and interesting cities in the world.

“It is unthinkable that there would not be a permanent memorial to the victims of the Holocaust here, and particularly an educational institution that teaches about Jewish life. And I emphasize life,” Altshuler said.

The museum is intended to educate visitors about Jewish life before and after the Holocaust, and will include the history of Jewish immigration to the United States.

The museum was developed by the New York City Holocaust Memorial Commission, which was founded in 1981 and is co-chaired by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau and George Klein, a real estate developer.

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