The museum's largest donor, Nate Levine, speaks to the crowd at the groundbreaking ceremony.
The museum's largest donor, Nate Levine, speaks to the crowd at the groundbreaking ceremony.
Nicholas Bostick

Holocaust Survivors Attend Groundbreaking for $61 Million New Human Rights Museum

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings declared yesterday Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Day during a groundbreaking ceremony for the rebirth of the Dallas Holocaust Museum Center for Education and Tolerance. The new museum, scheduled to open in the summer of 2019, will be renamed the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum.

More than $61 million has been raised since the plan was announced to expand the museum to a new lot on 300 N. Houston St., across from the current museum. Museum President and CEO Mary Pat Higgins said the new building will take the museum from 6,000 square feet to 51,000.

“This will be a place that will be good for the whole city, no question about it,” Rawlings said during the ceremony, which had more than 100 students and guests, including Holocaust survivors. “A place that can spur us through difficult situations, to help us with challenging racial issues and challenging issues related to people outside of our country.”

Plans for a larger space were developed four years ago, after the original museum began seeing increased attendance. Frank Risch, speaker and vice chairman of the museum’s board of directors, said that during spring break this year, museum guests had to line up outside as other visitors toured the exhibits. Only 240 visitors could enter the museum at a time.

The original building also was not equipped for researchers or visitors to examine the more than 5,000 artifacts and documents pertaining to the Holocaust. The new facility will not only give guests better access, but it will also expand the museum’s purview into human rights abuses in general.

“This is really one of the most important days in the history of our museum,” Risch told the crowd. “A few years ago, I said to a large crowd that we needed to be able to tell the story of what happens when there is prejudice and hate and discrimination. Our kids need to hear it, and our grandkids need to hear it. We’ve got to tell the story, and our mission has never been more relevant than it is today.”

Former Texas state Sen. Florence Shapiro is chairwoman for the museum’s board of directors. Shapiro, the daughter of two Holocaust survivors, said the museum’s goal “will be studying the past, understanding the present and hoping to change the future.”

She added that the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum will help to educate students on how to process and confront messages of hate in our society. By showing the worst humanity has to offer, museum officials hope to bring out the best in later generations.

It's a lofty goal, but one that is deeply important to speaker Nate Levine, founder and CEO of ETAN Industries, and his wife, Ann. The couple donated at least $10 million to the project, the highest amount raised by a single donor. Onstage, Nate Levine acknowledged that friends and family had questioned the donation to the museum, asking him how he could give so much when there are other great causes to support.

“The answer is, ‘How can we not,’” he said. "I hope that in a world filled with just too much darkness and hate that this new Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum will encourage people to serve as a beacon of hope for humanity by shining the light of freedom, harmony and dignity for all.”

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