The Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center is an educational institution that bears witness to the Holocaust, educates the public about it, and memorializes those who perished. It strives to reduce prejudice against all minorities by teaching the current generation about the experience of the Jews during the Holocaust and the suffering that other people have endured because of bigotry. Its primary focus is outreach to schools, but the Education Center also provides programming for the entire community. Among its educational offerings are talks by Holocaust Survivors, academic lectures, art exhibits, films and observances. It houses a library, an audio-visual materials collection, and a memorial garden. A special dimension of its services is providing assistance and instruction to teachers.
Survivors of the Holocaust who immigrated to Rhode Island decided in the early 1980s that Providence should have an institution that would preserve their stories and share them with the world. On May 5, 1988, the Rhode Island Holocaust Museum opened its doors (the name was changed in April of 2007 and again in 2015 to honor a major donor to more clearly reflect our mission). Since then, it has reached tens of thousands of young people and adults with its message of the need to treat minority groups with dignity and respect. SBHEC serves the entire state of Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts into the Boston suburbs and beyond.
The mission of SBHEC is to educate the community, especially its youth, about the Holocaust and its implications for humankind. Through its programming, the Education Center strives to explain the evils of prejudice and to motivate children and adults to treat all people equally, no matter their race, religion, ethnicity or other identifying characteristics.
The Education Center has enjoyed tremendous success. Every year, attendance at its community events grows, and it receives more and more requests from teachers for speakers, presentations, items from its audio-visual materials collection, and assistance with lesson planning. During recent years, the programs of the Center have reached almost 10,000 students each year, from middle school through college. They responded enthusiastically to its programs, asking pertinent and serious questions of the Survivors, scholars and docents who spoke to them. Teachers report that discussions spurred by the visit with a Survivor were profound and points made during those discussions were brought up time and again.
More than 300 students submit entries to the Education Center’s Art and Writing Contest each year. Hundreds of adults take advantage of our community programs every year. Recently, they included a program dedicating a rescued Czech Torah in a moving service which included survivors, an art exhibit of children’s art from the camps, a teacher workshop focusing on methodology for teaching the Holocaust, an author’s lecture and others. There are memorial services for Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass) and Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day).
Users of SBHEC’s services come from all segments of society. It serves both public and private schools-secular and religious-in the inner city, the suburbs and rural areas. Only by teaching youngsters about the dangers of prejudice and the horrors to which it can lead can we effect change in our society, both now and in the future. Students report that exposure to our programs has changed their lives, opening their eyes to the actual mistreatment of minority groups by a majority. The Education Center’s speakers encourage students to not only refrain from expressing prejudice themselves but to notice it when they come into situations in which it arises and then to try to take action to influence those situations constructively.
SBHEC’s physical facility consists of a bright, open accommodating space and a memorial garden. The library which includes several hundred Holocaust related books as well as audio-visual material, poster sets and curriculum guides is housed within the Education Center. Additionally, there are several small display areas.
In the center of the outdoor memorial garden is an evocative sculpture upon which visitors can reflect as they absorb the horrific nature of the tragedy which they have learned about in the Center.
The Center, library and garden are open to the public. Groups and individuals are welcome by appointment. The largest component of the organization’s programming is its presentations by area Holocaust Survivors for school groups, either at the Center or at individual schools. Our Survivors have a wide variety of Holocaust experiences. Some escaped as children either with their parents or on a Kindertransport or alone through the help of the underground. Others endured dire conditions in ghettos and concentration camps throughout Europe and Asia.
Teachers request presentations while their classes are learning about the Holocaust in history or other social science classes, or they are reading Holocaust themed books such as The Diary of Anne Frank or Elie Wiesel’s Night in their English or language arts classes.
SBHEC is making a difference in our world. Every human being deserves the same measure of dignity. However, prejudice continues to plague our society. It is through the grass-roots efforts of organizations such as ours that people will become sensitized to the injustice of bigotry and make efforts to eliminate it in their own schools, workplaces and society in general.
The Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center looks forward to continuing and expanding its vital services.