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Museum Highlights Florida as Sacred Place for Holocaust Survivors

PHOTO: Rositta Kenigsberg and Rita Hofrichter stand in front of one of the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center's most prized possessions: a Torah rescued from a Czechoslovakian synagogue destroyed during the Nazi occupation of World War II. Photo credit: Phil Latzman
PHOTO: Rositta Kenigsberg and Rita Hofrichter stand in front of one of the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center's most prized possessions: a Torah rescued from a Czechoslovakian synagogue destroyed during the Nazi occupation of World War II. Photo credit: Phil Latzman
February 5, 2015

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - As the world marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi death camps in Europe, a South Florida museum is gathering stories and artifacts to document the horrors of the Holocaust.

Rositta Kenigsberg is the president of the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center in Hollywood. She says the Sunshine State has become the ideal setting for the collection.

"Florida, right now, has the second-largest survivor population in North America and New York being first," Kenigsberg says. "So, we have a lot of liberators here as well and having the first South Florida Holocaust museum built here in South Florida is extraordinarily important, significant and meaningful."

Although their ranks are dwindling quickly as they age, it's estimated at least 10,000 survivors remain in the state most of them retired in South Florida.

Rita Hofrichter, 86, was a teenager in Poland during the war and lost nearly all of her large family in the death camps. She now serves as a volunteer at the museum, helping preserve the oral histories of survivors, giving tours and recounting her story to students.

Unfortunately, Hofrichter says the painful lessons of the Holocaust still haven't been learned, even 70 years later.

"We always thought after the Holocaust the world would be so horrified by it that they would see it never happens again to any people," she says. "Yet after World War II ended, the Holocaust ended, there were a hundred other genocides throughout the world."

Among the museum's most treasured artifacts are a restored rail car once used to transport prisoners to the death camp in Auschwitz, and a Torah recovered from the wreckage of a Czechoslovakian synagogue destroyed during the Nazi occupation in World War II.

Phil Latzman/Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - FL