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Community Voices: An open letter from the Florida Holocaust Museum

Elizabeth Gelman



A boxcar used to transport millions of Jews to their deaths during the Holocaust is on display at the FHM. Antisemitic sentiment persists to this day. File photo.

Welcome to the Catalyst’s Community Voices platform. We’ve curated community leaders and thinkers from all parts of our great city to speak on issues that affect us all. Visit our Community Voices page for more details.

The Florida Holocaust Museum has always had a dual mission: one is housed in our physical museum in St Petersburg; the other exists in classrooms throughout the state of Florida. We have been aiding implementation of Florida’s Required Instruction for Holocaust education by providing teacher training, relevant classroom programs, and quality resources across the state, free of charge, for over 28 years.

When we made the decision to close our Museum doors to the public on March 16, we did so understanding that our most mission-critical stakeholders – the students and teachers in Tampa Bay and across the state – needed our focus and support as they suddenly found themselves in a virtual learning environment. Immediately, we pivoted all operations to our digital platform so that we could continue to provide mission-centric educational resources and virtual outreach initiatives to teachers, students and families throughout the state of Florida, and beyond.

Our doors may have been shut but The Florida Holocaust Museum remained open. During the first eight weeks our impact was significant and wide reaching:

  • 633 students and 21 teachers participated in “Zoom with a Survivor” virtual lessons
  • 805 clicked on The FHM Virtual Resources web page
  • 4,157 took Virtual Tours of the Museum’s permanent exhibition
  • 14,859 tuned into our “Drop-In” Activities on Facebook: Testimony Tuesday, Artifact Wednesday, and Lesson Thursday
  • 21,470 observed the Facebook stream of the Yom HaShoah Commemoration as 113 national, state and local dignitaries and community leaders read the names of victims of the Holocaust from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. on April 21.

We know that many students explored museum resources with family members so the numbers reported above are likely only a portion of the actual number of participants.

In addition to maintaining consistent contact with the Tampa Bay school districts, we’ve also been arranging for and holding virtual teacher trainings throughout the state. During the months of May and June, workshops have been or will be held for teachers in: Escambia County, Calhoun County, Holmes County, Taylor County, Jackson County, Wakulla County, Franklin County, Jefferson County, Walton County, Gadsden County, Liberty County, Washington County, Gulf County, Madison County, Desoto County, Glades County, Hardee County, Hendry County, Highlands County, Okeechobee County, Bay County, Polk County, Okaloosa County, and Manatee County.

Beyond students and teachers, The FHM has been working hard to bring the museum into people’s homes even while the doors to our St. Petersburg museum remain shut. We’ve heard from many people who have used our virtual resources, participated in our social media interactive programs, taken advantage of our virtual tour and explored our collections.

We are diligently working to create the plan that will allow us to once again open our doors and safely to welcome back staff, visitors, students, volunteers and our most precious resource, our local Holocaust Survivors. Until then, we will continue to perform our mission-critical work to use the lessons of the Holocaust to create a better future for all.

Finally, a sincere note of gratitude. So many people in our community and across the state and country have sent in donations and messages of support. THANK YOU. Thank you for letting us know that the lessons of the Holocaust continue to be relevant and important during this extraordinary time. Your support has made it possible for us to continue to deliver our mission-driven work in a new way.

Our doors may be shut, but The Florida Holocaust Museum remains open.

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