The permanent museum features state-of-the-art technology alongside traditional museum displays of original material from the Holocaust period, documents, photographs and artworks. Highlights include a large model of Treblinka, created by one of the few Jewish survivors of that camp, the late Chaim Sztajer, who settled in Melbourne after the Second World War, as well as powerful artworks by survivors and other Australian artists.
There are 18 sections which explore the rise of Nazism and the horrors of life and death in the ghettos and camps across Nazi-occupied Europe. The exhibition commences with the ‘Vanished World’, focussing on pre-war European Jewry, and ends with ‘To Life, to life, l’chaim’ where we look at the survivors who came to Australia and made it their home.
The Nazis established a network of camps in which they imprisoned people they considered enemies, such as Jews and those with political views which the Nazis deemed inimical. There were concentration camps, internment camps, labour camps and transit camps, many of which were divided into numerous sub-camps.
The Allied armies witnessed scenes of horror as they liberated camps – unburied corpses and prisoners who looked like skeletons. They were surrounded by evidence of mass murder, in particular, the ruins of the gas chambers and crematoria. With the release of photos and information, the rest of the world finally became aware of the full extent of the atrocities committed by the Nazis and their collaborators.
Some Jews managed to avoid capture by the Nazis, whether by hiding or by pretending to be Christians and living openly with false documents. Others managed to flee to safer territories, not occupied by Nazis. For Jews in hiding or on the run it was a terrifying and often extremely hazardous existence.
Individual acts of courage and humanity enabled beacons of hope to flicker throughout this period of darkness, and ultimately stand as testament to man’s ability to confront and withstand extreme evil. During the Holocaust brave individuals and groups tried to help Jews. Such acts took great courage because the punishments were severe and, in some cases, the penalty was death.
Soon after the Holocaust ended, survivors began writing about their experiences. The Jewish Holocaust Centre was created by Melbourne Holocaust survivors in 1984 with a mission to educate the public in order ‘to combat antisemitism, racism and prejudice in the community and foster understanding between people.’