The Legislature recently awarded $5 million in funding to the Florida Holocaust Museum, with Chairman Mike Igel calling it evidence that state leadership recognizes the institution’s impact, work and goals.
St. Petersburg’s Florida Holocaust Museum (FHM) hosted a private event Tuesday to celebrate a “transformational” $5 million gift from the state. City Council Chair Gina Driscoll and Police Chief Anthony Holloway joined museum officials as Rep. Linda Chaney presented a ceremonial check to museum officials in front of an actual boxcar once used to transport Jews to concentration camps in Nazi Germany.
The $5 million in state funding will support technological improvements to enhance student and visitor engagement with Holocaust survivor stories through FHM’s interactive Dimensions in Testimony exhibit. The check presentation occurred just 11 days after antisemitic fliers landed on St. Petersburg doorsteps, and the museum will also use the money to bolster security for staff and attendees, along with its nearly 20,000 artifacts.
“People throw around words like ‘transformational,’” said Igel. “That’s what this is. We transform people through our facilities, through the artifacts and through the stories, and you’re giving us the opportunity to do that in a special way.”
The money will also enhance already robust security measures. Executive Director Erin Blankenship noted that FHM employs guards, cameras and metal detectors at the front door – while other museums focus on keeping people from touching or stealing the artwork once they are inside. She said that is due to the constant threat Jewish people, organizations and allies face.
Blankenship added that the hate still permeating throughout the region and nation tells museum officials that their work is more important than ever.
There is also the educational aspect, as Florida now mandates that students learn about the Holocaust’s atrocities, lessons and stories of survival. Blankenship called it gratifying to see state leadership realize the importance of that education and said those resources provide kids the tools to combat hate they encounter in their own lives.
However, the educational initiative also brings up to 150 students to FHM on any given day during the school year, said Blankenship. That increases the need to ensure the facility is secure, and museum officials now have the means to take every precaution possible.
“We want to make sure that they’re safe, and they have an experience that’s uninterrupted and focused,” she said. “So that they can come out learning something that can influence the way they live their lives.”
Blankenship relayed that Tuesday’s gift was the largest the museum has ever received – from the state or otherwise – and a significant portion will go towards technological advancement. She said the current Dimensions in Testimony is more of a beta version, and the state’s investment will provide an upgraded, permanent exhibit after the testing phase.
As someone whose family endured the Holocaust, Igel said it was difficult to express the gift’s meaning in just a few words.
He said the ability to transform the building and create new, innovative educational experiences is one way that people like himself and the surrounding community can carry the baton in the continuous fight against antisemitism.
“This is the ultimate tool to be able to do what we do,” said Igel. “We will make sure that the investment the state is making in us will be a great investment.”