This was a somber experience. I didn’t know quite what to expect or how I was supposed to feel.
I took a public docent-led tour through the museum, available Tuesdays and Saturdays at 1:30 pm. I recommend taking one if your schedule allows. Otherwise, you can grab an audio wand that tells you about the exhibits when you punch in the corresponding numbers listed on the exhibits.
Anyway, the docent started my group off at the entrance and started giving us the background information. About the history of antisemitism, how WWI set up the conditions for the rise of Hitler and Nazism, how Hitler and Nazism was at first a lunatic fringe party but eventually gained prominence due to the Great Depression, how Hitler and the Nazis used “stabbed in the back” propaganda, among other strategies, to demonize the Jews.
The deeper we walked into the museum halls the further we got into the Holocaust, step by step. In the below picture, Nazi thugs stood in front of a Jew owned business to intimidate would be customers.
The docent explained the process, of how it went from Step A to Step B to the “Final Solution” of the Jew problem. The museum wasn’t gruesome. It was filled with artifacts, models, and photos. It’s designed to be appropriate for middle school field trips, and it is, but one still can’t help feel the horrors that are conveyed.
The centerpiece of the museum is a boxcar from Poland that was used during the Holocaust to cart victims around to concentration camps. It sits on original railroad track from the Treblinka Killing Center.
The docent told us that when the boxcar first came to the museum they gave it a power wash and a child’s ring fell out. They don’t know who it belongs to. There are no initials on it, identifying marks, or anything like that. They just know it was hidden away undetected between the boards for many years by a victim of the Holocaust.
The tour, which was excellent and ended in front of the boxcar, lasted for about an hour and a half. Afterwards, my group was invited to explore the museum on our own. There are three floors in all and the tour only explored the bottom. I spent about another hour and half, maybe two hours, slowly wandering the exhibits, contemplating the things that I saw.
On the top floor were wooden carvings of child Holocaust victims. The carvings were displayed next to photos of the youth. It has been said a single death is a tragedy and a million deaths a statistic. The artist, in a video next to the exhibit, explains that creating these carvings is his way of combating this.
I was certainly moved by this museum. It makes one think about human nature. It makes one think about how to confront our own current issues and events. The museum was founded in 1992 as the Holocaust Center and moved to its current location in 1998. In 1999, it changed its name to the Florida Holocaust Museum.
The museum is active in the community, sending speakers to local schools, offering learning materials, raising awareness of human rights and living out its founding mission of “teaching the members of all races and cultures the inherent worth and dignity of human life in order to prevent future genocides.”
Doing it on the cheap…
I was able to attend free via Bank of America’s “Museums On Us” program, which I wrote about here.
If you are a member of MOSI or Tampa Museum of Art you get free admission.
Free admission for active duty U.S. military members, USF students with ID, children 6 and under, and veterans on Veterans Day (with ID).
Discounted $9 rate for adult group tours (minimum of 15 people).
Location: 55 5th St. S, St. Petersburg, FL 33701
Admission: Adult $16.00 | Students under 18 $8.00| College Students $10.00 | Seniors (Ages 65+) $14.00 | Free Parking
Hours: Open daily 10:00 am – 5:00pm | Closed on major holidays (including Jewish holidays)
Florida Holocaust Museum photo by Ebyabe