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Hilton Family Holocaust Education Center to emerge in downtown Phoenix

Hilton Family Holocaust Education Center seeks to educate future generations
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

It all started with political rhetoric.

It then grew into idealism that pitted humans against one another based on calculated political rhetoric, nomenclature and visual propaganda carefully curated to instill fear in the popular consciousness of a nation.

The ‘darkest days of the 20th Century’ historians agree began with the Jan. 30, 1933, election of Adolf Hitler to the station of chancellor of Germany that ultimately culminated in the systematic killing of civilians, approximately 6 million humans of Jewish heritage.

By the end of World War II — which is officially recorded as May 8, 1945 — what started as political rhetoric designed to blame a population of people for the poor economic prospects, quality of life and stature of the power class of a western country resulted in the Nazi political party, and their collaborators, killing nearly two out of every three European Jews, who were civilians.

Any student of history can tell you these basic points of facts — but most Americans cannot — according to a 2019 religious knowledge survey conducted by the Pew Research Institute, which included new questions about the Holocaust.

“Fewer than half of Americans (43%), however, know that Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany through a democratic political process,” findings of the report state. “And a similar share (45%) know that approximately 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Nearly three-in-10 Americans say they are not sure how many Jews died during the Holocaust, while one-in-10 overestimate the death toll, and 15% say that 3 million or fewer Jews were killed.”

Those results are based on 10,971 U.S. adults surveyed in February 2019.

The Phoenix metropolitan area is the largest community in the nation without a Holocaust Education Center — that’s where the Arizona Jewish Historical Society comes into the picture.

On Tuesday, Nov. 28, officials at the Arizona Jewish Historical Society announced the launch of a $30 million capital campaign to erect the Hilton Family Holocaust Education Center in the heart of downtown Phoenix.

“The new center is extremely timely,” said Dr. Lawrence Bell, executive director at the Arizona Jewish Historical Society.

“We are seeing a resurgence of antisemitism on both the left and right of our political divide. Now more than ever, we need to teach students and public alike about the dangers of radicalization, and show them where such incendiary rhetoric will lead. It leads to hate, it leads to violence, it leads to war, and eventually it leads to genocide.”

Phoenix leaders gather to support Hilton Family Holocaust Education Center

In the afternoon hours of Tuesday, Nov. 28, Phoenix leaders gathered to show support for development of the Hilton Family Holocaust Education Center.

This new project is spearheaded by a major gift from the Steven J. Hilton Foundation meanwhile additional funds have been received from the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, the city of Phoenix, the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany, and other private donors.

The new project will focus primarily on students, with a goal of creating an emotional connection to the events through the use of innovative new technologies as well as original artifacts and local survivor stories, officials there say.

“Our goal is to bring in as many Arizona students through The Hilton Family Holocaust Education Center as possible to educate them about the Horrors of the Holocaust and the impact of hate in our society” Mr. Hilton said. “Holocaust Education is now mandated by state law for students in middle and high school, and we hope to be a safe space for learning and growth in regard to this topic.”

The Hilton Family Holocaust Education Center will consist of a 27,000-square-foot building on the current campus of the Arizona Jewish Historical Society. This new facility will include a state-of-the-art high tech gallery dedicated to Holocaust education as well as an area dedicated to traveling exhibits on other genocides and closely related topics.

Phoenix Vice Mayor Yassamin Ansari was in attendance for the formal announcement of the Hilton Family Holocaust Education Center envisaged in the heart of downtown.

“You have my unwavering commitment to support this effort and you have the support of many city leaders,” she told those who gathered in downtown Phoenix to celebrate the announcement. “What excites me most about this [the Hilton Family Holocaust Education Center] is about focusing on our youth — this is how you build a stronger community.”

The Holocaust and genocides exhibits will be designed to primarily engage the student audience plus other visitors. Jewish heritage exhibits in the historic 1,200-square-foot gallery put the Holocaust in context of the Jewish people and the Jewish experience.

“A lot of people don’t know about the holocaust today,” Mr. Hilton said of recent survey data suggesting Holocaust history has lost its prominence in American classrooms. “Because in many places the Holocaust is not taught. A recent survey shows they [respondents] did not know that 6 million Jews were killed — I can’t overstate the gravity of these numbers. This keeps me up at night.”

The Arizona Legislature has enacted HB 2241, which among other things requires Arizona students encounter Holocaust education at least twice between seventh and 12th grades, Mr. Hilton pointed out of a positive piece of legislation that is now law.

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