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In the museum, a large, black and white picture displays elementary-age students, all with Jewish star patches sewn into their sweaters and coats.Up front sits Pete Metzelaar, about 6 years old at the time. Now 80, he's a Seattleite and Holocaust survivor who travels around the country telling his story.
"That regime, state-sponsored, wanted to eradicate every person of the Jewish faith on Earth," Metzelaar said.
"Everybody is different," he said, about how people will react to the new museum in Seattle.
Maybe they'll see the child's leather shoe, on loan from the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum in Poland, and really understand what happened. That "they were gassed. They were … burned in the crematorium," Metzelaar said.
Metzelaar believes teaching it both in the museum and in schools can help people understand tolerance "to make kids aware what bullying will do to the worst extent," he said.
"Six million people got annihilated, among which were 1.5 million kids 10 years and younger. I mean it could have been … me." Those are the numbers of Jewish victims but the Nazis targeted more, including people who were mentally ill, gay or lesbian, and any minority who didn't fit into the Aryan race.
Metzelaar survived because a Dutch couple risked their lives to house him and his mother. "We just lived in the farmhouse, but when the Germans came to raid the farm we crawled underneath some floor boards," he said."They were walking a foot and a half over my head. It would have taken one sneeze, one cough, one hiccup, and it would have been all over.
And even that got to be too dangerous."The farmer built them a cave in a small forest next to the farm "… and my mom and I hid in that like a couple of sardines," Metzelaar said.
And this was after he and his mother had already been separated from their entire family, who all died at Auschwitz.Those raids happened once or twice a week and Metzelaar was only 8 years old."We could hear them ransacking the farm — it was close by. That was the scary part … 'Are they gonna come get me?' … I was aware that somebody wants to kill me."
Metzelaar is one of many Seattle-area survivors profiled in the exhibit, and that focus on local stories is what sets this Holocaust museum apart.
Ilana Cone Kennedy, Seattle-based Holocaust Center for Humanity's Director of Education, wants young students and adult visitors to leave thinking about injustices that are happening right now."Our actions make a difference … what we do, even the little things — good or bad — have a ripple effect. They matter," she said."The Holocaust was a perfect storm of things happening and it didn't have to be that way. It could have changed, had people done different things, like stood up … and there were people who did. There just weren't enough of them."
Metzelaar was able to go to the Netherlands and meet the children of the couple who saved him."I sat next to the daughter and I asked her, ‘What made your parents do what they did?' Her straight answer was: they felt it was the right thing to do," Metzelaar said.
The museum opens in Belltown on Sunday and after that will be open twice a week. Visitors are asked to make reservations online at HolocaustCenterSeattle.org.