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Holocaust Artifacts and Stories Preserved at New Center

A conservator at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's conservation and research center points out a hidden pocket on a piece of clothing worn by a prisoner at a Nazi concentration camp.
A conservator at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's conservation and research center points out a hidden pocket on a piece of clothing worn by a prisoner at a Nazi concentration camp.
Holocaust Artifacts and Stories Preserved at New Center
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Louise Lawrence-Israels did not own many things during the three years she spent hiding from Nazis in Amsterdam, but she did possess a small toy chair.

It was a gift for her second birthday, and it meant everything to Lawrence-Israels. She kept it her entire time in hiding, not far from the house where Anne Frank wrote in her diary.

Now, this chair is joining thousands of other artifacts at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's new conservation and research center. The center opened on Monday, the annual Memorial Day for the 6 million Jews killed by Nazi Germany during World War II.

Donating the chair was not easy for Lawrence-Israels, who is now 75 years old. "It was a big thing for me to actually give the chair,” she said. "A lot of people can look at it and see how it was for a little child in hiding."

More than 20 other Holocaust survivors joined Lawrence-Israels for the center's opening.

The David and Fela Shapell Family Collections, Conservation and Research Center is in Washington, D.C. It is a large, modern building with space for documents and artifacts, and a lot of room to grow.

Holocaust Conservation
Holocaust Conservation

The artifacts at the center are kept in eight climate-controlled rooms in a building designed to survive weather storms. The collection includes many artifacts of everyday objects, from children's toys and clothes to sewing machines used in concentration camps.

Travis Roxlau, director of collections services, said center officials have spent 25 years gathering the items.

"We collect stories, and all of the objects that go along with those stories, because as the surviving generation passes on, these are going to be the objects that are left to help us tell the history of the Holocaust," Roxlau said.

For the survivors, they feel that protecting this collection of artifacts is important for preserving the reality of the Holocaust.

"I think the most important thing is to make sure that the memory of the Holocaust isn't forgotten," said 75-year-old Alfred Munzer. Munzer donated a silver teething ring, which was with him at the age of nine months, when he was hiding with a Dutch-Indonesian family in the Netherlands in 1942. He also donated two small pictures of him that his mother kept hidden while she was in concentration camps.

According to Munzer, who currently lives in Washington, D.C., the center and its artifacts will serve "as a lesson to the world as to where hate can lead to."

The other Holocaust survivors are “not going to be here forever,” said Lawrence-Israels. “Once we're not here anymore the museum and this institution will speak for us.”

She added, “This is the only evidence that we leave behind, and with the climate today it's important that people see that this was real," she said.

Researchers will be able to use the materials in the center. A reading room will open in the next year. The museum also is in the process of making documents and images available online.

I’m Phil Dierking.

­­­­­­­­­­­­This story was originally written for Associated Press. Phil Dierking adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

Do you think people’s artifacts should be preserved in a museum, or should they stay with the owner? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.


Words in This Story

artifact – n. a simple object, such as a tool or weapon, that was made by people in the past​

concentration camps – n. a type of prison where large numbers of people who are not soldiers are kept during a war and are usually forced to live in very bad conditions​

climate-controlled – adj. another term for air conditioning​

diary – n. a book in which you write down your personal experiences and thoughts each day​

holocaust – n. the killing of millions of Jews and other people by the Nazis during World War II​

institution – n. an established organization​

preserve – v. to keep something in its original state or in good condition​