By Alex Espinoza, Special to the Fort Bliss Bugle:
(El Paso, Texas, Feb. 15, 2018)
The wooden planks of a boxcar destined for the Dachau, Germany concentration camp creaked as I walked through an exhibit at the El Paso Holocaust Museum and Study Center Sunday.
As I walked, I read vivid accounts of the horrific conditions the road to concentration camps left real-life people to endure. The grotesque details portrayed misery and I found myself wishing what I read was fiction. The sad reality, however, is that it did happen, and this museum is dedicated to making sure people understand this reality.
The progression of the museum, located a short drive from Fort Bliss at 715 N. Oregon St., gives visitors the feeling they are moving on a timeline of events during World War II that led to the Holocaust and recovery efforts afterward. The progression ranges from Hitler’s rise, political events, the mass rounding up of Jews to live in concentration camps, the eventual liberation of the death camps and the recovery that took place in the years after.
A hallway adorned to look like a Jewish neighborhood particularly intrigued me. Anti-Semitic posters covered light posts and protesters had shattered the windows of a Jewish-owned business. The word “jude” sloppily appeared on the door of a Jewish home across the street of the vandalized business. The museum executed the recreation of this scene well and it captured a dark time in history.
This was not the only exhibit that struck me, however. The museum provides many relics and replicas to give visitors visual representations and a historical context of the tragedy that took place during this time in world history, and they’re all successful.
Although the museum is self-guided, during my visit, Rick Armour, a museum staff member, walked through the exhibits and was glad to share stories and information about many of the museum’s artifacts. At the end of the exhibits, the museum features a list of El Paso heroes and survivors who chose to make El Paso their home.
One of El Paso’s heroes is the museum’s founder, Henry Kellen, a Lithuanian survivor of the Holocaust who immigrated to the United States in 1946 with his wife and nephew. In the 1980s, Kellen learned about Holocaust deniers, and he set out to document and educate people about the events. Kellen’s museum succeeds in educating people about the Holocaust.
During weekdays, the museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but the museum is closed Mondays. On weekends the museum operates from 1 to 5 p.m. Pictures are welcome, but it is important to be respectful. The museum offers visitors a bookstore to purchase reading material. The museum is free, but stays open through donations and grants. For more information, call 351-0048.