Thirty-three years ago, when Rabbi Charles Rosenzveig built the nation's first Holocaust Museum at the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield, Mich., no one could have predicted the enormous impact it would have, nor the busloads of visitors it would attract.
Over the years, the museum fell victim to its own popularity. Having outgrown its tiny 12,000-sf space, the museum clearly needed a bigger home. Neumann/Smith & Associates, Southfield, Mich., was hired to create a 50,000-sf Holocaust Memorial Center with expanded administrative space, a conference center, an 8,000-sf library (five times that of the original) with 40,000 volumes and a rare book collection, and two new components: the Museum of European Jewish Heritage and the International Institute of the Righteous.
The site chosen was an abandoned cineplex in Farmington Hills that once housed three movie theaters. Located right off an expressway, it was blessed with plenty of parking.
Built at a cost of $9.7 million, the new center's design stirs the emotions. The arcade entryway is reminiscent of the gate at Auschwitz; with its glass enclosure on top, it could be also taken for a guard tower. Gray and blue striping on the second story recalls the grim uniform camp prisoners wore. Cables criss-crossing the brick exterior bring to mind electrified fencing, or perhaps barbed wire. Concrete block serves as a grim reminder of the grayness of the "final solution."
Six white glass pyramids, 15 feet in height, function as skylights by day and illuminated flames by night. They represent the six million Jewish lives lost.
Juxtaposed against the harshly edged structure is the elliptical International Institute for the Righteous, the only area finished in white, to signify the purity of altruism. The Museum of European Jewish Heritage depicts the rich cultural history and contribution of Jews in prewar Europe.
The judges agreed that this memorial, while smaller in scale than its counterparts in Washington, D.C., and Jerusalem, is no less grand in achieving its mission of education and reconciliation.