Jewish organization hopes to bring a Holocaust educational center to Phoenix – The Arizona Republic

Posted By on August 18, 2021

As Holocaust survivors grow older, time is of the essence in preserving their stories.

The Arizona Jewish Historical Society has a vision to build a Holocaust education center near downtown Phoenix to help do just that.

If we dont talk about the past, how can we protect the future?" asked Oskar Knoblauch. "We must teach our youth our past history. Most importantlywe must educate children to think for themselves."

Knoblauch, a 95-year-old Holocaust survivor who now lives in Scottsdale, hopes to be able to see the center open. For one, he's part of an innovative hologram exhibit planned for the museum that will allow visitors to interact with his image and ask him questions about his experiences.

The center will be one of the few places in the world to have access to this technology. The technology wasfeatured in a "60 Minutes" episode that aired in 2020.

Organizers stress that they're a long way from raising the estimated $15 million it would take to build the center.

Valley residents Tom and SusanErnst covered the cost of the hologram exhibit. Susan's parents were both Holocaust survivors. Her father was the only survivor in his immediate family.

"Although my dad was a happy, productive loving family man with a keen sense of humor, he rarely spoke of his experiences and the tragic loss of his family.It wasnt untilas an adult, when I went with my family to a Holocaust museum in Detroit, that the flood gates opened and he shared his story with us in exquisite detail," Susansaid.

Phoenix is among the largest cities in the country without a Holocaust center. The center would educate visitors through local survivor stories, artifactsand immersive experiences.

"Education is a critical element of change, and this facility will help teach people of all backgrounds the value of diversity and inclusiveness.We need that more than ever today." Tim said.

Plans call for 17,000 square feet to be added to theexisting Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center, located at Margaret T. Hance Park downtown.

For his exhibit, Knoblauch was filmed and asked a series of more than 2,000 questions. The responses were recorded so visitors can receive answers from his hologram.

Knoblauch was a teenager during the Holocaust. Knoblauch and his siblings were assignedto work at the Gestapo headquarters inPoland. Knoblauch recalls the Gestapo being the most ruthlessmembers of the Nazis.

Henarrowly escaped death at the hands of the Nazis several times. He is constantly asked how he managed to survive, move forwardandforgive what happened to him.

Knoblauch believes that the ability to survive is something that everyoneintrinsically has within them. He also gives credit to his parents for their guidance and the values they instilled in him as a child.

Generations to come will be able to talk to Oskar and ask him questions and continue to experience the tragedy of the Holocaust through his eyes, said Dr. Lawrence Bell, executive director of the Jewish Historical Society.

The center would be a resource toteach younger generationsabout the past and to prevent it from ever happening again, said Anthony Fusco, educational coordinator for the Jewish Historical Society: We dont want to make the Holocaust and genocide into something that just happened toJews, what we are trying to say is that this can happen to anybody.

In 2020, the Jewish Historical Society received an $11,000 A Community Thrives grant from the Gannett Foundation and The Arizona Republic. Gannett Co.Inc., owns The Republic/azcentral.comand more than 200 media outletsnationwide.

Reporter Roxanne De La Rosa covers Arizona's nonprofit community. Reach her at

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Jewish organization hopes to bring a Holocaust educational center to Phoenix - The Arizona Republic

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