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Holocaust Museum LA Celebrates $45 Million Expansion

It will offer outdoor reflective spaces, large galleries and classrooms, a theater for survivor talks, film screenings, concerts, conferences and public programs and a new pavilion to house an authentic boxcar.
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November 30, 2023
Holocaust survivors (from left) Henry Slucki, Joe Alexander, Susanne Reyto, Paul Kester, Dr. George Berci and Robert Reyto. Photo by Gary Leonard, Holocaust MuseumLA.

It was a moment for the Jewish community to remember last week when ground was broken on a massive $50 million expansion of Holocaust Museum LA. 

The Jona Goldrich Campus in Pan Pacific Park will rise alongside its big brother. The museum is a unique institution: It was the first Holocaust survivor-founded museum, and it was the first Holocaust museum in the U.S. It was built in 1961, a only 16 years after the Holocaust.

Museum CEO Beth Kean said the expansion, designed by award-winning architect Hagy Belzberg, is scheduled to open in late 2025. It will offer outdoor reflective spaces, large galleries and classrooms, a theater for survivor talks, film screenings, concerts, conferences and public programs and a new pavilion to house an authentic boxcar. It will also have a dedicated theater for USC Shoah Foundation’s “Dimensions in Testimony” exhibition that allows visitors to have a virtual conversation with a Holocaust survivor using a holographic capture and voice recognition software.

Fifteen age-defying Holocaust survivors were cheered by the crowd of 200 officials and Jews beneath a tent in Pan Pacific park on an overcast morning. 

Kean, who shared the opening platform with Museum Board Chair Guy Lipa, remarked that the joy of the day’s events marked, “the most I have smiled since Oct. 7.”

Lipa, the grandson of survivors, addressed current events. “Our community is devastated by the atrocities being committed by Hamas unfolding across Israel and the surging antisemitism in our backyards. But I am heartened by seeing our community come together today. Never Again is now.”

Before becoming CEO, Kean, who served on the museum’s board, recalled a familiar scene.

Survivor and museum founder Jona Goldrich (1927-2016) “used to pound his fist on the table at the end of every board meeting and say ‘A Holocaust museum on every street corner never would be enough. I am fighting against forgetting.’” 

Kean noted that Goldrich’s name, “has become synonymous with Holocaust education in Los Angeles.” Goldrich’s daughters – Andrea Goldrich Cayton and Melinda Goldrich – who are major donors, “are carrying forward his legacy.” This is why the new campus will be named in his honor.

For many who attended the groundbreaking, the most memorable moment was when survivor Paul Kester took the stage to the day’s only standing ovation.

“I often tell my story to students here at the Holocaust Museum and many other venues,” he began. Days away from his 98th birthday, he spoke with uncommon precision and eloquence.

“My name is Paul Kester. I was born in 1925, and I grew up in Weissberg in Western Germany. I had very happy childhood, even during early years of the Nazi regime.” Alluding to Kristallnacht, he said: “There was a day 85 years ago, Nov. 10, 1938. On that day, my childhood was shattered. That day a major pogrom was ordered against the Jews.

“It was the beginning of the end of Jewish life in Germany and, ultimately, of Jewish life in Europe.  What happened on that day, what I experienced, was hopelessness and fear, death and destruction. How to get out? No country wanted us. To live in those days is still very much on my mind. 

“Now it is November 2023, and again I have experienced not fear but concern and disgust over a new wave of antisemitism. 

“This time it is not government- organized. But it is not limited to acts by England and confused individuals. It is pervasive among all levels of society, especially among this country’s intellectual elite, and among faculty and students at the greatest universities.”

Kester vowed not to soften.

“We can fight this new antisemitism. And the Holocaust Museum is uniquely qualified to do this.” – Paul Kester

“Today I can say times are different. We can fight this new antisemitism. And the Holocaust Museum is uniquely qualified to do this.

“I will continue to play my part as long as I can do it.”

Smiles over the success of the four-year campaign enlarge the museum and a mostly happy occasion thinned when Kean reflected on a recent event.

“Sadly,” she said, “we lost one of our cherished Holocaust survivors last week. 

“Just two days before 99-year-old Fred Ostrowski passed away, he Facetimed me. He said thank you for creating a most valuable asset for our community, insuring the future of Holocaust education for generations to come.”

Reflecting on the birth of Holocaust Museum LA 62 years ago, Kean observed what a different time it was. “The founding survivors,” she said, “had the courage and foresight to create a memorial at a time when the community was not ready to face this part of our history.”

Museum Board Chair Guy Lipa, City Councilmember Katy Yaroslavsky, Museum CEO Beth Kean and state Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel. Photos by Gary Leonard, Holocaust MuseumLA.

For a solution, “Education is the way forward,” said Kean, who also read a letter of commendation from Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Joe Alexander is one of the busiest, most widely traveled Holocaust survivors in Los Angeles. 

Moving freely without a cane or any other aid, he turned 101 years old this week.

Last May, Alexander told the Journal, Germany’s government invited him to participate at the former Dachau concentration camp in celebrating the 78th anniversary of its liberation.

In recent months, the hearty survivor also has traveled to South Dakota and Pennsylvania for celebratory occasions.

City Councilmember Katy Young Yaroslavsky (D-5th District) summarized the many spoken words. 

“Earlier this week, along with colleagues, I had the opportunity to meet with survivors of Oct. 7 and family members of hostages,” she said. “I don’t have the words yet to describe everything I felt listening to them telling their stories.

“What I do know, I was reminded of the power of hearing first-person accounts – people’s stories make real accounts of that which we have a hard time wrapping our heads around.”

In addition to Lipa, Kean, Kester and Yaroslavsky, other speakers included architect and museum board member Hagy Belzberg, three members of the California Assembly Legislative Jewish Caucus: Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, State Sen. Ben Allen (D-El Segundo), Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur (D-Hollywood), Steve Zimmer, California deputy superintendent of Public Instruction, Museum Vice Chair Andrea Goldrich Cayton and County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath (D-3rd District).

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