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Bonita & Estero Magazine

The Holocaust Museum & Cohen Education Center - Programs and Exhibits Dedicated to Teaching Mutual Respect

Feb 17, 2022 10:51AM ● By Jessica Wagner

The Holocaust Museum and Cohen Education Center was founded in 2001 and is located on Imperial Golf Course Blvd in Naples. Its mission is to teach “students and visitors [to] learn to value mutual respect, understand the dangers of indifference, and be inspired to take action against bigotry, hatred, and violence.”

The Museum came about by a group of 7th-grade students and their teacher at Golden Gate Middle School studying the Holocaust. Susan Suarez, the Museum’s President and CEO, describes the circumstances that led the students and their teacher, David Bell, to begin what eventually became the Museum. “As the students became very interested in the subject, their teacher reached out to local Holocaust Survivors and worked with their art teacher Michelle Lee to create exhibits about the stories they learned. They called this exhibit “Out of the Ashes.” At the end of the school year, the Survivors and others created a nonprofit organization and the new Holocaust Museum was established in a small rented storefront in Naples. The Museum grew and moved to larger rented space over the years until in 2019 the organization was able to purchase and renovate its current facility at 975 Imperial Golf Course Blvd. in North Naples.”

Currently, the Museum includes a Permanent Collection, which houses over 1,000 WWII photographs and artifacts. These items have been donated by local Holocaust Survivors and WWII Camp Liberators.

The Museum also offers a variety of temporary collections throughout the year, based on their own artifacts or traveling museums.

Susan states, “The Museum has established itself as a source of unique, high-quality education for the Southwest Florida community and has impacted over 300,000 people since its founding. We serve students and teachers in grades 5-12 and colleges in Southwest Florida, as well as thousands of general public visitors to the Museum and participants in our lectures and programs.”

For Susan, the most memorable moments while working at the Museum are the stories of the Holocaust Survivors, as well as seeing their dedication to teaching about solving problems with love.

The Museum’s message is all about respect. Susan recalls a question they often hear is “How could people have let the Holocaust happen?” And her response explains why the message of the Museum is so important. “The answer to that question gets to the heart of what we teach – the dangers of indifference, understanding where hatred can lead, and the importance of being an Upstander rather than a bystander. An Upstander is someone who stands up against injustice and doesn't just stand idly by. The Holocaust and countless other atrocities and human rights violations happen because too many people think that it is not their problem and do not speak out. We share stories of Upstanders from the Holocaust, other genocides, and people right here in Southwest Florida who are dedicated to fighting against bigotry, hatred, and violence.”

If you’ve never been to the Holocaust Museum and Cohen Education Center, now is a great time to visit. On March 3, the Museum is honoring an Upstander from the genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda with a dinner and presentation by General Romeo Dallaire. Tickets are available for the event here.

The Museum is always looking for volunteers to help with welcoming visitors to the Museum, serving as trained docents, and helping with the programs for students and teachers.

For more information on the Museum or how to volunteer, check out their website or call (239) 263-9200.