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Washington State's First Holocaust Museum To Be Unveiled In Downtown Seattle

The nation’s newest Holocaust museum, and the first in Washington state, is about to be unveiled in downtown Seattle. Its founders hope it will connect lessons from history with present-day issues.

The people behind the Holocaust Center for Humanityhave been working in Washington classrooms for decades. Now they’ll have a permanent home in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, where teachers, students and the public can come to them.

The museum will provide a place for visitors to connect with Seattle-area survivors, such as Peter Metzelaar. In 1942, when Metzelaar was 7, his father was arrested by the Nazis, and he and his mother went into hiding on a Dutch farm. The farmer would conceal them under his floorboards when soldiers came.

“The farmer would throw a rug over it, and on many occasions the German soldiers would be walking a foot-and-a-half over my head. One cough, one sneeze, one hiccup, it would have been all over,” Metzelaar said.

He still has the yellow star his mother was forced to wear, identifying her as a Jew. He plans eventually to donate it to the museum. Metzelaar hopes that kind of artifact, of which the museum already has about 5,000, and testimony from survivors like him will link people with the lessons of the Holocaust.

“There are still a few of us who are able to speak and tell of their stories in the first person: I experienced this. I was there. I saw this,” he said. “It makes a total different impact than saying my mom or my dad or grandpa did.”

Executive Director Dee Simon said it will also draw connections between the Holocaust and other dark chapters of history a little closer to home.

“We hope to invite and include other organizations in our community, organizations that represent Japanese internment, the tribes — other groups to come in and share this space with us, and make it a space for our community to really face the human rights issues that are here in the Northwest,” Simon said.  

The Museum will be gradually moving into its new space at Second Avenue and Lenora, opening for the public in January. They expect to host 15,000 visitors in its first year.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.