At a recent site inspection and at a safe social distance Kathy Baykitch, Centre Director had a chance to speak with Sue Drenth, about her time with AHMSEC.
Kathy: Looking back when you first joined the AHSMEC project did you have any idea of what could be achieved?
Sue: Yes indeed! I had a big vision for the project right from the start. The only thing that caused any uncertainty was whether we would be able to raise the necessary funds; however as the project got underway and we gained some substantial financial supporters both philanthropic and locally in South Australia, I knew that the vision was achievable. That gave me great confidence to proceed.
Kathy: What inspired you to take on the project management?
Sue: I came to the role with a strong commitment to Holocaust education and a desire to play a part in a project that would act as a counterpoint to rising antisemitism world-wide and benefit young people in particular and the South Australian community as a whole.
Also, having worked with the Jewish community previously as General Manager of Jewish Community Services, and curated an exhibition to commemorate Regina Zielinski’s story as part of the 70th anniversary of the Escape from Sobibor, I felt that the AHMSEC project was an exciting opportunity on a larger scale to bring Andrew Steiner’s vision for a Holocaust museum and education centre to fruition. It has been a passion project for me and in it’s own way, a personal homage to the victims and survivors of the Holocaust.
Kathy: What has been the greatest challenge?
Sue: By far the greatest challenge has been the limited resources that the project has had available for all stages of the project management and for the creation of the initial operational infrastructure for a fledgling museum, AHMSEC Inc. This project has really been built on a shoestring but we have been very lucky to have had some excellent support from highly committed and talented people, often pro bono at various stages to bring the vision to reality. Looking back, we’ve had our fair share of challenges but things kept falling into place and that kept our energy levels high and focussed on the end result.
Kathy: What has been the most rewarding part of your role as AHMSEC Project Manager?
Sue:The most rewarding part of this whole experience for me has been to take Andrew’s vision and the hope around that…and develop that into a reality. I have said a few times that the best day for me will be when I can walk through the completed museum, to see what we have created and most of all, to have Andrew feel that we have fulfilled his vision for the future of Holocaust education in South Australia.
Kathy: What is it that you think that students and members of the public who go through the Museum will walk away with in terms of the experience?
Sue: My hope is that museum visitors, no matter what their age will feel an empathy with the very human stories of the Holocaust as told through the exhibition narrative…because the Holocaust, besides being the largest genocide in modern times and a significant historical event, is at its core, the stories of the six million innocent lives lost…..a crime against humanity. If visitors can come away feeling engaged by what they have experienced both in imagery and information and become a keeper of those stories and the memory of the six million, then the AHMSEC will have achieved our purpose. The memory of those innocents will then live on in the re-telling of those stories and the desire for a more compassionate world.
Kathy: We see problems that we have seen in the past including antisemitism, racism and hate-speak. Why is Holocaust education important?
Sue: The fact that antisemitism, xenophobia and genocide continue to occur around the world with the ensuing threats to democratic norms and values is the strongest reason for Holocaust education to be a recognised part of the school curriculum, offered as a specialist program.
The Holocaust is a complex history and education provides an opportunity for teachers to inspire critical thinking, societal awareness and personal growth in young people who will soon be part of determining the future. At AHMSEC, we have made a determined effort to have a teaching exhibition that both aligns with the national curriculum and uses personal stories of Holocaust survivors to challenge young people to think critically about the lessons of the Holocaust and how they translate to contemporary life….and overall, to help young people see the Holocaust for what is was; a human event that raises challenging questions.
Kathy: Do you think there is hope for the future?
Sue: There must always be hope for the future….and that hope lies with the youth in our society. indeed, that is AHMSEC’s goal…to educate and challenge young people and future generations to aspire to a kinder, more compassionate community and to stand up and support that aspiration as Upstanders. To turn that hope into reality and build a better world.
It has been a privilege for me to work on this project and I would like to thank the AHMSEC Board for entrusting me with this first stage; to bring the museum to its official opening as a centre for Holocaust education, for the support of human rights and a meaningful place for commemoration and remembrance.
I’d like to wish you all the very best Kathy, as you take the museum into it’s future.