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OCT 14, 2010

Holocaust museum finds a permanent home (Daily News)

Years after Masha Loen was liberated from a Nazi death camp, she met other Jewish genocide survivors at Hollywood High School, where they assembled a collection of photos and artifacts that became the nation's first Holocaust museum. 

Forty-nine years later, the last living founder of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust will celebrate the grand opening today of its permanent home in Pan Pacific Park.

"It's the best thing to happen – to see this open before I go," said Loen, 80, of Valley Village.

"It's for mankind to learn. This should never happen again. Never, never. To anybody, any race, religion or country. Never again."

"Never again" could be the theme of the museum, which was housed at four Wilshire Boulevard locations before settling into the $18 million building set into a knoll overlooking the Holocaust Memorial Monument.

There, up to 250 schoolchildren a day are expected to walk down a sunny ramp under a grass-covered roof and into the 32,000-square-foot tribute to a Jewish world that was – and the six million murdered Jews who might have been.

Visitors will descend through the award-winning concrete edifice designed by architect Hagy Belzberg into ever-darker exhibits that culminate in one of the blackest periods in history.

Artifacts and photographs help tell the story of Europe's Jews from the rise of Nazism, to their deportation, extermination and liberation after World War II, as well as the few who tried to save them.

"The museum is important to me because the Holocaust is the greatest tragedy, the most brutal form of murder, in the history of mankind," said E. Randol Schoenberg, president of the museum board. "It's our duty as Jews to teach that history so that history isn't forgotten.

"And mankind can learn from this horrible experience and never repeats it."

The Museum of the Holocaust is one of two in Los Angeles dedicated to the Holocaust. The Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance also focuses on Shoah.

Aided by a host of audio and touch-screen displays, visitors to the Fairfax District museum walk through nine galleries lined with floor-to-ceiling photographs of Jews and their Nazi killers.

There are 25,000 photographs of Jews that swirl about a digital table, surrounded by once-cherished Torahs, china, clothing and toys.

There are Nazi flags and memorabilia, including children's books used to teach anti-Semitism. There are stacks of luggage packed hastily by Jewish refugees fleeing the Germans, only to be turned away by nations such as the United States

There's a cattle car like the one used to transport Loen and her family, its doors creaking shut on museum-goers.

There are uniforms worn by Jews at Dachau and children's shoes left behind at Auschwitz, as well as the audio-visual testimonies of survivors and a sprawling model of the Sobibor camp.

And there's a "Perp Wall" of Nazi "hangman" Reinhard Heydrich and other major perpetrators behind the Holocaust. Some of the photographs are graphic, and not suitable for young children.

"Evil flourishes when good people do nothing," said Mark Rothman, executive director of the museum, before entering an exhibit of rare exploits to save the Jews. "This museum gives people the understanding of tragedy, and the power to reinterpret it for good."

Rene Firestone survived Auschwitz, but her 14-year-old sister Klara Weinferd died from its medical experiments. In filmmaker Steven Spielberg's documentary, "The Last Days," she interviews the Nazi doctor who experimented on her sister.

"You saw on TV that people saved 33 miners in Chile," Firestone, of Beverly Hills, said before giving a survivor lecture on Wednesday. "And when six million Jews were murdered, nobody gave a damn ... The whole world stood still."

Loen lost her mother and two sisters at the concentration camp in what is now Poland. She and others were freed by the Red Army, only to be imprisoned once again by the Soviets. After she emigrated to the United States, she met other Holocaust survivors while learning English at Hollywood High in 1961.

When each decided to donate photographs or personal effects, a Holocaust museum was born.

"They had the same feeling I did – we must do something," Loen said. "I wanted to take revenge. This was our revenge. I devoted my life to this museum ... It is a miracle I'm still around."

See the photo gallery at: