A year ago, State Representative Mark Gillen and his allies at the Berks Military History Museum opened a museum and Holocaust education center next to the relatively new Mohnton Museum.
It was a leap of faith, as planning for the project at 198 E. Wyomissing Ave. was just getting started, and a big fundraising effort was going to be needed to get there.
We were pleased to report that plans are moving forward, with organizers engaged in a fundraising campaign to raise the estimated $1.7 million needed for the works. They hope to start work in early 2023 and complete the project by the end of this year.
Committing to a major construction project is difficult given the high costs in the construction industry, but Richard Ehst, the retired bank executive who leads the fundraising campaign, hopes these cost increases can be offset by donations of labor and materials from local businesses.
We encourage businesses to support this effort and others to consider making a contribution to support this important project. The museum can also call on more volunteers to help with its educational work.
For starters, the existing museum is quite small and badly needs more space to better fulfill its mission of telling the stories of America’s military history and the role of the Berks Countians in it. The expansion would double the size of the museum from 4,500 to 9,000 square feet.
“We have so much more that can be displayed and so much more story that we can tell, but we need more space,” said Gillen, a Robeson Township who is the museum’s founder and chairman.
And there can never be too much attention devoted to teaching people about the Holocaust. It is no exaggeration to link this subject to this local history museum. The heroic veterans who fought in World War II, from this region and across the country, played a pivotal role in ending the Holocaust and helping to expose its horrors to the world.
You can’t tell America’s military history without explaining the Holocaust, Gillen said, and the new building will do just that.
Gillen plans to have exhibits and artifacts detailing the period from the rise of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s to the liberation of the concentration camps and the Nuremberg trials, with much of the material relating to Berks or the Pennsylvania.
The closer Holocaust history can be brought to homes, the better. Not everyone will have the chance to visit the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel, or concentration sites like Dachau in Germany and Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.
We are delighted to see that the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center of Philadelphia is cooperating with the local museum and plans to place artifacts and books on permanent loan at the Berks Museum. Combined with local stories and available resources, these are sure to deliver a powerful message.
This is crucial, because with so much shocking misinformation being spread on this topic, the risk of more people denying the Holocaust or grossly underestimating its significance increases.
There are not many people left who lived through this era, whether survivors or soldiers who witnessed the liberation of the Nazi camps. When these witnesses are gone, the risk that their stories will be lost increases dramatically in the absence of efforts such as this museum.
Victor Hammel of Wyomissing, a major supporter of the museum’s expansion effort, noted that when he moved to Berks in the early 1970s there would be 30 or 40 survivors at Holocaust memorial events. . Now that number is down to a few.
It is up to each of us to support this effort to ensure that their stories are told to present and future generations.
Donations to the Holocaust Project can be mailed to Wm. Koch CPA, c/o Dick Ehst, 2650 Westview Drive, Wyomissing PA 19610. Checks can be made payable to the museum. Those with questions can reach Ehst at 610-505-9190.
To volunteer, call the museum at 484-345-8084.