By Samuel Asher
Executive Director, Virginia Holocaust Museum
This has been a year of challenge and change, but it has also been filled with times of hope and inspiration.
Although concerns about COVID-19 continue to prevent a return to normalcy, our team at the Virginia Holocaust Museum has persevered in spite of the pandemic.
We have received many calls from supporters who understand the importance of our museum and our mission to tell the story of the Holocaust though the eyes of those who survived history’s darkest hour.
In 2021, we participated in meetings with all 22 of the Richmond-area museums and this collaboration will go forward in 2022 and beyond. Our museums have a unique opportunity to accomplish important educational work and to let our visitors know that we stand together to fight racism, anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry.
Highlight of Year
A highlight of the year was sponsoring the Violins of Hope-Richmond exhibit with the Virginia Museum of History and Culture and the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia from Aug. 4 – Oct. 24, drawing over 18,500 visitors.
The 12-week stay in RVA marked the longest time that the exhibit has ever been in one location. It was also the first time that three museums and a local symphony – the Richmond Symphony – had partnered for a truly memorable visit by these remarkable instruments.
Thanks to a boost in attendance from Violins of Hope-Richmond, our museum had over 24,000 visitors in 2021, a significant increase over 14,000 for 2020.
And we are just beginning to bring student groups back to the building, a contingent that totaled around 8,000-10,0000 visitors in pre-pandemic times.
More than 3,000 people purchased tickets for the 10 concerts in Richmond, Hampton Roads and Roanoke. Most of these concerts featured talented musicians from the Richmond Symphony who were visibly moved by the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play violins owned by Jewish musicians who perished in the Holocaust. Dr. Roger Loria, a Holocaust Survivor, and his daughter, Rachel, a second-generation Survivor, shared messages of hope at a number of the concerts.
Our museum’s Education Department continues to provide essential and enlightening Holocaust educational programming for teachers and students across the Commonwealth. Program topics included “Contemporary Anti-Semitism” and the “Genocide in Rwanda” and our team also ran the Student Art Contest and the Alexander Lebenstein Teacher Education Institute again this year.
On Aug. 30, a special program was conducted on Zoom called the “Genocidal Gaze: From German Southwest Africa to the Third Reich.”
We scheduled a total of 33 educational and community programs about Violins of Hope-Richmond, many featuring remarks by Avshi Weinstein. In addition, we have featured the “Auschwitz” and “Beyond Duty” in-house exhibits ever since we reopened in mid-2020.
Throughout the pandemic, the Collections Department continued to take in donations from survivors and liberators. We currently house 318 individual collections representing the entire geographic scope of the Holocaust. Plus, we continued to provide remote access for researchers and participated in video outreach with school and community groups statewide.
As we re-opened, we saw a slow stream of requests to visit the collection, which continues to increase as we make appropriate accommodations to minimize risk.
The need to provide remote access does continue even as we see a steady increase in the number of groups and classes who want to use the archival collections. This includes a large range of users including professors, PhD candidates, middle school students, and many other community members.
New Exhibits for 2022
Two exhibits coming in 2022 are “All that Remains: A Holocaust Exhibit in Fiber” created by artist Leslie Klein and the Children’s Memorial in memory of the 1.5 million children who were killed in the Holocaust. We look forward to sharing these impactful exhibits with our visitors.
Finally, I’m delighted to report that the museum’s Master Plan is becoming a reality. Several features of the Master Plan include a new lobby/foyer, a new bookstore and gift shop, along with much-needed repairs and refurbishments.
Our goal is to have all of the renovations completed by the end of 2022, the year that the Virginia Holocaust Museum celebrates its 25th year of operation.