On Dec. 6 2012, Myrna Meyer, Chair of “Change Begins With Me,” helped to launch the new high-tech interactive exhibition in the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center. She vows that the exhibit, which portrays contemporary hate, discrimination and ethnic conflict, reinforces the lessons of the Holocaust.
“Change Begins With Me” is the only exhibit of its type in a Holocaust Museum that is presented through the benefit of technology in a user-friendly way for visitors and educators.
“We want visitors to tour the Museum and then see the parallels to today’s local and international issues of bias. A 65-inch screen allows them to read and hear about post-Holocaust genocides and compare and contrast what societal conditions were in place to allow these atrocities to take place,” said Meyer. The exhibit also encourages action. It’s punctuated with some steps visitors can take to have an impact.
Meyer has the reputation of being a staunch supporter of the Museum since its inception in 1995 — and the Jewish community in general. Jewish Federation and the Central Agency for Jewish Education were the pathways that led her to this important work. Myrna’s interest in the Holocaust was piqued as a young adult. “I never learned about the Holocaust as a kid,” she said. “But once I started reading and learning, I figured if I didn’t know that much about this horrible period in history, then there must be many others who didn’t as well. I wanted to do what I could to help spread the message and provide the right educational tool for our community.”
Two key moments gave Myrna the drive to stay involved and along the way tested her skills as an educator and listener. “One day I was walking through the Museum and a student was crying standing next to a display of Auschwitz. I walked up to her and said, ‘Are you okay?’ And her comment was, ‘My parents told me this never happened.’ Immediately, I had to think how best to handle this discussion with her so she could go back home and discuss with her parents what she had seen and done in the Museum that day. I just listened. Didn’t judge or comment.”
Another incident, which Meyer calls “alarming,” happened when she was escorting a group of young people through the Museum. “I had been talking about the Nazis and how horrible they were when this one young student raised her hand and said, ‘My grandfather was a Nazi.’ I paused and thought, ‘How do I respond to this?’ I paused and said, ‘Aren’t we fortunate that people can change after experiences like this’”
But the apotheosis of her work with the Museum came when her grandson, Jason Greenberg, who attends the University of Wisconsin, asked for her help. For a Jewish studies class, he had to write a paper on how American Jews responded to the Holocaust. “When I read it, it blew my mind that my grandson was able to write the most eloquent, sensitive and intelligent paper. I felt so proud that my work had filtered down to his generation and mattered enough to him that he turned to me as a resource. I thought “Wow!’”
More than just giving her time, Meyer also has shared many ideas which have lead to the Museum’s success. “Ours is only one of 20 Holocaust Museums in the country and one of the most comprehensive and respected in the Midwest,” she said. “This has been made possible because of the richness of our Jewish community. And that comes from the caring of all of us individually. How fortunate we are to have resources here like the Museum. However, we wouldn’t have any of our wonderful agencies and programs without the support of our community enabling Federation to do its wonderful work.”