Holocaust museum breaks new ground

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Groundbreaking for a new conservation facility that will house the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s collections took place April 15. Lead donor Fela Shapell (center) joined in for the ceremonially first shovel. Photo by Suzanne Pollak
Groundbreaking for a new conservation facility that will house the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s collections took place April 15. Lead donor Fela Shapell (center) joined in for the ceremonially first shovel. Photo by Suzanne Pollak

Employees of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum are in a race against time, as they seek to gather artifacts and personal memoirs from Shoah survivors all over the world, many of whom are already in their 80s and 90s.

The museum has been so successful that it has outgrown its rented warehouse near Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. A ceremonial groundbreaking was held April 15 for a 100,000-square-foot building in Bowie — more than double the size of the existing warehouse — that will house artifacts, photographs, documents and oral testimony from the Holocaust.


Construction work on the $40 million, two-story, building is expected to begin in May and be completed by late next year, with occupancy planned for early 2017. The facility will replace that 40,000-square-foot warehouse by the airport. Its official name will be The David and Fela Shapell Family Collections and Conservation Center.

Fela Shapell, whose family foundation donated $15 million, was one of several people who donned a hard hat and lowered a shovel into a ceremonial box of dirt last Wednesday.

Her son, Irvin Shapell, pronounced it a very happy day for his family. “It’s the opportunity to further the work of the museum to preserve the Holocaust forever,” he said. “Without actual concrete evidence, the Holocaust is at risk for becoming a legend. Memories fade.”

Not only will the facility be home to the many memories, but it also include areas to preserve them.  “Every object has a rate of decay,” Shapell said. “Unless these objects are preserved in the right conditions, in the right environment, they will turn to dust.”

Sara Bloomfield, director of the museum, presided over the festivities, which took place under a bright sun inside a tent with see-through sides. Large buses, which brought Holocaust survivors and museum employees and volunteers to the ground breaking, filled the street by the cul-de-sac where the facility is being built in Prince George’s County.

The museum is gathering evidence of the Holocaust in 50 countries in six continents. The collection is expected to double in size during the next decade.

About 15 survivors who attended the event each dropped their own message of hope for future generations into a silver time capsule that will be opened in 2043, on the museum’s 50th anniversary.

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@SuzannePollak

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